We love to ask questions. We ask a lot of questions because it helps us understand what’s going on around us, it helps us to make decisions and progress forward in whatever we’re doing. Our days are fueled with questions and especially if you’re a parent, you could be facing up to an average of 100 questions a day from your child!
Questions are often categorized into two simple categories; closed and open.
An open question is one which garners a more detailed response and often starts with, how, what, who, where, why or when. A closed question is essentially used to confirm information or an outcome and ends with either yes or no.
Often, in business we find ourselves gravitating towards these closed questions without realizing it, which can often result in limited outcomes and feedback because the answer doesn't truly require a educative response. When we talk about a good question, it’s about simple, clear and open questions.
The power of a good open question can change the course of a major project, reveal the true motivation behind someone’s actions, or uproot the approach a business is taking with their strategy.
It’s easier said than done, however. We often find ourselves reverting to closed questions without realizing it. “Is our strategy working?”- yes or no, or “Did you enjoy that project!” - yes or no. If we twist some of the key words we will allow for a more reflective and informative response. “How can we improve on our strategy?” or “What did you enjoy about the project?”. Surprisingly children tend to be very good at asking open questions because of their curiosity for the world around them and their yearning to learn. Think of all the times you’ve been ask “how” by a kid.
None of this is new or highly scientific but it’s important we continually remind and catch ourselves with what questions we’re asking in different situations. From our experience at The Hustle House, when you start with how or what, you start to understand people and teams more effectively, what motivates them, strengths they want to exploit, where they’re struggling and you can tailor work that better matches their skills and meets the business needs.
Asking great questions however is just the start, it’s how you listen which is where the true magic lies. As the saying goes; listen to understand, not to respond. Ask the question with the intent to really listen to the response and understand it to develop a meaningful output. Something kids definitely haven't mastered.
This is not to say closed questions don’t have their place. Once you’ve been able to delve into an issue, when you finish a conversation with your team or colleague on a topic or development point, closed questions can work effectively to confirm people understand the next steps or outcome. “Are we all clear on what our responsibilities are?” or “Do you know what you now need to do next?”. Just be mindful where you use them.
Today; ask one powerful open question, be that to you colleague, boss or friend. Or try to catch yourself asking a closed one and reframe it. See what happens.