American humorist and cartoonist James Thurber reassured his readers that “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers,” a dictum supported by philosophers, mindfulness meditation practitioners, psychotherapists, scientists, artists, and creative others.
Given the importance of questioning, many resources are available to refine skill in inquiry: Understanding others’ questions, framing high-impact queries, responding to others, and using questions to catalyze individual and organizational change.
John Miller’s sales-oriented QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life advocates understanding the intent of statements phased as questions by crafting “What?” and “How?” questions instead of defense-provoking “Why?”
His approach is applicable in organizational management and change situations, and argues for increasing personal accountability while decreasing blame by focusing on the underlying work concerns like achieving revenue targets, deliverable timelines, customer satisfaction goals, cost savings.
Like Miller, Eric Vogt, Juanita Brown, David Isaacs advocate “What?” questions in The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation, and Action.
This team asserts that high-impact questions in business situations are valuable because they
• Evoke the listener’s curiosity, imagination, creative problem-solving, new possibilities
• Stimulate reflective conversation
• Provoke thoughtful consideration of diverse perspectives, contributions
• Clarify underlying assumptions
• Generates energy, progress, improvement
• Focus attention on issues and alternatives
• Memorably resonate with meaning
• Articulate progress toward shared understanding
• Suggest more questions
Dennis Matthies, Chief Questioning Officer of Training organization Vervago supplies the “how” of questioning by helping business participants refine skill in formulating seven types of “precision” analytic questions, drawing on formal logic and critical thinking disciplines:
- Assumption Questions, including existence, uniqueness, measurement, possibility, value, audience, time constancy, category, similarity
- Basic Critical Questions (BCQ), including data, source
- Questions of Clarification, including ambiguity/vagueness, “pivot table” segmentation for granular analysis
- Go/No Go Questions, including “meeting basics and participation”, participant motivation analysis, inquiry focus
Vervago advocates “precision” responses to questions by:
- Referring to the question
- Answering briefly
- Anticipating and addressing underlying concerns embedded in the question.
David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University broadened the vision of effective questioning’s potential impact when he developed Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as an affirmative approach collaborative organizational change.
This approach reduces resistance by focusing on desired change instead of the perceived problem, outlined in his book, with Diana Whitney, Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change.
AI’s “4Ds” of organizational change share some similarities with Design Thinking Processes:
- Discovery Phase – Appreciating strengths and best practices of the current situation
- Dream Phase – Envisioning the value and benefits of a proposed change
- Design Phase – Defining processes and organizational structures that can deploy demonstrated strengths while moving toward a defined change state
- Destiny Phase – Strengthen the organizational system’s capacity to sustain ongoing positive change
-*How do you use questions to clarify direction and initiate change?
- Design Thinking to Address Social and Business Problems
- Hypothetical Questions May Lead to Bias
- Five Questions to “Work Any Room”
- Questions to Discover, Communicate Personal Mission
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