The Power Of Questionscahide
Written By: Cahide Akkuzu
Reading time: 5 minutes
We cannot learn something before we are ready to learn it! When we try to teach something to someone, if that person is not ready to receive it, he or she is not going to learn. Why can someone not be taught until they are ready to learn? When we look at why, interestingly, we see that the reason for this lies in asking questions!
Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor who recently passed away, was also a known business consultant. He is known for developing the “Disruptive Innovation” theory, which is called the most effective business idea of the early 21st century. Clayton Christensen explains why we can’t learn without asking questions:
“Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question — you have to want to know — in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.”
Questions are our receptors in our mind for answers. If we are not curious enough to ask questions, then we are not making room for answers in our mind. Our mind cannot grow if we stop asking questions. Learning is all about asking questions with curiosity and making room for the answers to these questions in our mind. When we don’t do this, we stop our own process of learning, developing and growing. The questions we ask have great impact on how we think and what we focus on while we are listening. The questions we ask ourselves, our internal dialogue, has tremendous influence on how we think, act and relate to others. This is true for both individuals and also for organizations.
When we start thinking with the power of questions, we open a new space in our mind to transform our thoughts and actions. When we change our actions, we achieve different results! For me, this is a big aha! I am a coach and very skilled in asking questions to my clients. For me, this time it’ s about asking myself the right questions so I arrive at a more favorable outcome.
Being ‘curious’ appears to be a very important state of mind. Curiosity is all about having a desire to learn more, trying out new things and experimenting with ideas. Curiosity is the fuel we need to look ahead and redesign the future. Being curious can change the way we think and embrace knowledge, it will allow us to make smarter decisions and increase our influence. Being curious will help us to ask the questions so that we open up the room in our mind for the answers to come.
If we are unaware of the questions underlying our daily assumptions, reactions, and behaviors, we can easily make wrong decisions and get an unwanted result. It is important to be more aware and selective about the types of questions we tend to ask ourselves in order to benefit from the power of the questions. Dr. Marilee Adams, in her book ” Change Your Questions, Change Your Life” categorizes these as ‘Learner Questions’ and ‘Judger Questions’:
‘’Our mindsets are determined by the questions we ask. Some questions have the potential to catalyze breakthroughs and inspire transformations. Others lead to stagnation and demoralization. The difference lies in whether you ask Learner Questions or Judger Questions.’’
“Learner Questions” are open-minded, curious, and creative. They promote progress and possibilities, and typically lead to discoveries, understanding, and solutions. By contrast, “Judger Questions” are more closed-minded, certain, and critical. They focus on problems rather than solutions and often lead to defensive reactions, negativity, and inertia. Learner Questions facilitate progress by expanding options; Judger Questions impede progress by limiting perspectives.
Dr. Marilee Adams gives examples of typical learner questions and judger questions as follows:
- Who is to blame?
- Why can’t they perform?
- Why is she/he so stupid and frustrating?
- How can I take control?
- How can I prove I’m right?
- How can I protect my turf?
- Why aren’t we winning?
- What could we lose?
- Why bother?
- What are my goals?
- What works?
- What am I responsible for?
- What are the facts? What are my assumptions?
- In what other ways can I handle this?
- How can I help?
- What do our customers/stakeholders want?
- What does the other person think, feel and want?
- What is the big picture?
- What is the best thing to do right now?
- What is the benefit of this?
- What am I missing and ignoring?
- What steps can we take to improve the situation?
- What’s possible?
- What can I learn?
- From this person or situation?
- From this error or failure?
- From this success?
Both types of questions are more or less a natural part of our lives and are applicable to a variety of challenges. The goal is to integrate the Learner Questions into your everyday thinking. Unless we benefit from the power of the Learner Questions, we will not be able to change our thoughts, actions and results. This is true both for individuals as well as for organizations. Learner Questions can make you open to new ideas and change your mind. They allow you to unveil new choices, options, and possibilities you might otherwise have missed.
Asking the right questions at the right time is an important distinguishing feature of successful leaders. Raymond Dalio is known to be the Steve Jobs of investing. Ranking 69th in the list of wealthiest people in the world in 2020, Ray Dalio manages $150 billion of investments of 350 customers with 15 thousand employees in his investment company Bridgewater Associates. Ray Dalio has already climbed to the top of the list of legendary leaders of the business world with the corporate culture that he has created. He expresses the power of the questions in these words:
‘’Look for people who have lots of great questions. Smart people are the ones who ask the most thoughtful questions, as opposed to thinking they have all the answers. Great questions are a much better indicator of future success than great answers.’’
So, as a leader, are you giving out more answers or are you asking more questions? We know that great leaders ask great questions. We also know that better questions make better strategy. Teams that operate with a learner mindset are more productive, motivated, and engaged. There’s often a gap between what we know and what we do in organizations, and this applies also to mindsets. People intuitively recognize the value of a learner mindset, but often find it difficult to enact. It might be tempting to think that as a senior leader, you are smart and you have the knowledge to help solve just about any situation your team runs into. No matter what the scenario might be, you probably have got a good answer of how to solve it based on your experience. This might make you feel like ‘things would not run well without me here’’ and this feeling might boost your ego. The reality is that you become the constraint to your organization’s ability to grow. It’ s like a toxin that slowly poisons you. A bell will ring in your mind and wake you up the moment you experience a significant negative hit.
The antidote to this is to work on your own mindset first. Notice whether you are asking yourself Learner Questions or Judger Questions, and the effect they have on your mood, engagement, and productivity. Take an issue that you have been dealing with recently. As you try to resolve this issue, check to see if most of your focus has been on Judger Questions. Then create Learner Questions that are focused on your priorities and on achieving your goals on that specific topic. Before any meeting you lead or attend, write down possible questions you could ask with a learner mindset focus. Also, notice the questions your team members typically ask, and the impact on morale, collaboration, problem solving, and results. Make sure that you consistently model the learner behaviors so that you lead by example.
Although you are intending to be in the learner mindset by using the power of questions, from time to time old habits may come back! You may suddenly find yourself in a ‘Judger’ mindset. Learning a new habit or a new way of thinking takes time. We learn through awareness and observation. It’s important not to shut down your observations with an overly critical negative reaction every time you identify a Judging Question going through your brain or coming out of your mouth. Ask yourself frequently: “Am I currently in a judger mindset?” If your answer is yes, go back to the list of Learner Questions that you have created for yourself. When you make a habit of asking yourself the question “Am I currently in a judger mindset?”, you will be taking a very important step to transform your thoughts and actions. This question is your lifebelt helping you to switch back to the learner mindset.
Use the power of questions to look ahead and shape your future. When you give yourself time to really think about what you want to see happen, you start to get lots of insights into how to make it happen. Even spending just 15 minutes per day thinking about and visualizing your future is an important step towards your goals. You will be able to focus on your priorities instead of letting your daily life take control of you.
Start thinking with the power of questions to open new space in your mind to transform your thoughts and actions!
Dr. Marilee Adams: ‘’Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work’’
Context Professionals Corporate Coaching and Consulting