A large part of my job, as a Thought Partner to my clients, is listening with my ears, eyes, and heart. I’ll share observations I see as I’m listening to their words, emotions that are coming up for me as I hear what they say, and as I reflect what they said, for them to hear and see too, I’ll often follow with a question that requires them to pause and think before responding. 

That’s not because I’m the greatest question crafter of all time. Far from it. 

I think it’s because there’s a REASON for the question.

When there’s a reason for the question, the question will wait for the brain to fire up in search of a thoughtful response. It’s not that the question was crafted perfectly, it’s because the question has a purpose. When something has a purpose our brain wakes up as if it’s been given a shot of expresso. 

I’m sure we’ve all heard the quip “If you want stupid answers, ask stupid questions” or as my good friend Rebecca says “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” There is some truth here – to both statements. 

If we are uninterested in the answer, we ask questions like “How are you?”. If we cared to know the response we might instead ask “Tell me about your week?” or “What’s been going on at work since we last talked about that big project?” or “How old are the kids now?” If you ask “How are you?” you’re begging for a useless answer. If you don’t care either way, don’t bother with any of it; be merciful and let their brain stay in snooze. Simply say “Hi; it’s good to see you.” Keep it moving. 

However, if you want to engage and draw more from yourself, your friends, your team, your spouse, your child, or your boss….ask questions that have a reason and purpose, and activate the brain. Let’s look at a few.

  • Want to change around negative thinking? Ask “What’s working well?”
  • Want to refocus energy and attention? Ask “Seems like you’re working hard on this. What is important about this for you?”
  • Want to move from stuck to unstuck? Ask “Give me 3 options, A-B-C. What option could you try first?”
  • Want to clarify or acquire more information without looking like you’re not tracking? Ask “Could you tell me more about that?”
  • What to redirect a conversation back to the agenda in a meeting? Ask “You make an interesting point. Could we explore that later this week when we have more time to think and discuss further?” By asking this question, you get the meeting back on track; however, you’ve activated the brain of the question recipient regardless as they will spend some of their active time thinking about what you will discuss later in the week. Their suggestion might be a good idea that needs its own time – then win, win in that situation.

If someone can answer your question without thinking, think if you should be asking the question. 

Questions = Reason. Purpose. Action.