Asking the Right Questions

Today, let’s look at a way to ask questions that will help you shift your focus from problems to solutions.

If you want to make your communications as effective as possible, and if you are interested in finding solutions to problems rather than becoming bogged down in them, this is a suggestion that will help: If you ask the right questions, you can direct communications to get answers that are genuinely helpful.

For example, if you ask someone “What’s wrong?” you’ll get an answer – often a long one – which will focus on the problem. When we focus on the problem, our brains make sure we are unable to see anything else. However, if you ask “What do you want or need?” or “How would you like to change things?” you have redirected the conversation from the problem to the solution.

In every situation, no matter how dark or dismal, there is a desirable outcome. You can convince people, including yourself, to focus on that outcome, by avoiding questions that ask “why” and choose instead “how” or “what” questions. You focus on the future, which can be invented, and not the past, which (for all intents and purposes) cannot be changed.

Instead of asking your kid why they are flunking algebra, ask what is needed to help bring the grade up to at least a “C.” As a substitute for asking your boss why you didn’t get a raise, try asking what you need to do in order to justify a salary increase.

As a leader, refrain from asking your employees why they didn’t make the sale. Instead, ask them what they can do differently so they’ll be certain to make the next one. As an effective leader, ask them how you can assist them in finding the solutions.

You get the idea. It’s a matter of focusing on solutions to challenges, and moving focus away from the challenges themselves. It’s moving from a dead-end, no-outlet street to a four-lane freeway with on-ramps and express lanes.