Asking the right questions

“Asking a good question is executing the active curiosity.”

This is a quote from Dan Moulthrop, CEO of The City Club of Cleveland — the free speech forum. I’m a massive fan of questions. Asking the right ones, however, isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s an art to ask a good question. Here’s a bit more on questions.

The basics

First of all, what even is a question? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, question is “a sentence or phrase used to find out information.”

This last bit is crucial — it’s all about finding information, learning something new. It’s about staying curious, but also staying informed.

We use questions every day, but we don’t always pay attention to them. Some, such as ‘how are you?’ or ‘how was your weekend?’ are often just conversation fillers. We sometimes ask just for the sake of asking, without even willing to find out the answer.

Opening doors

What’s worth keeping in mind is that questions can do much more than curing curiosity and giving more information. One of my favourite quotes about questions comes from Tim Ferriss. In “Tools of Titans” he says:

Questions are your pickaxes. Good questions are what open people up, open new doors, and create opportunities.

This analogy of pickaxe sums up perfectly the purpose of questions — it gives opportunities.

Last year I learnt how hugely powerful questions can be. My series Four PR Questions (#4PRQs) opened many doors for me. I was asking PR leaders four questions about careers. Their answers have not only benefited my job hunting and career, but I also got feedback that it helped other grads and junior professionals.

Types of questions

There are tonnes of materials available on the types of questions and how can we effectively use them. I chose to outline four types of questions based on the article published on the Harvard Business Review. The management magazine focuses on four types of questions: clarifying, adjoining, funnelling and elevating.

Both clarifying and adjoining are meant to affirm what we know. The former looks into more narrow space. It is designed to “uncover the real intent behind what is said,” as HBR writes. The example of a clarifying question could be ‘Can you clarify what the main point of this press release is?’ An adjoining question looks to take a wider look into conversation and see how the issues tackled can be put into a context. For example asking ‘How does making this media list will help in the media outreach?’ will help understanding the process of media pitch.

Funnelling questions are used “to challenge assumptions, and to understand the root causes of problems.” Example of this question could be ‘Why should we not pitch this story to the national publications?’ The elevating types of questions helps us to “zoom out” and see the wider picture. As HBR rightly points out, “being too immersed in an immediate problem makes it harder to see the overall context behind it.” Therefore, we could ask ‘Will this story in media help our client achieve what they want?’

The power of questions

Questions are important. By asking the right questions we’re showing our prospective employers on the interviews that we’re keen. Our current employers see that we’re continuously curious. We also do the tasks to the brief if we ask good questions. Asking questions might seem like a trivial activity, but when we start paying closer attention to them, we can notice how powerful they are.

What are your favourite questions?

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If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at] gmail.com, tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!