It’s no secret that the key to generating new ideas and finding solutions is to ask questions. People ask questions at work constantly to solve problems and to increase and share knowledge. It is commonplace to type questions right into Google to begin the process of scouring the internet for answers. At Senexx, we firmly believe that it is in the best interests of every person to know how to ask better questions so they can get straight to the point and find solutions. In a previous blog entitled “Overcoming Boundaries: The Art of Question-Asking,” we discussed some of the processes and best practices for asking questions to attract the right kind of attention in the workplace. Following the practice of how to ask questions, it is important to examine what characteristics make up good questions.
- Good questions facilitate progress.
Logically, the purpose of seeking an answer is to move forward with the issue at hand by acquiring knowledge. Unfortunately, some answers will cause people to feel as though they have just taken a step backwards, whether they are working on a project or are having trouble understanding a specific concept. One must recognize that even backtracking is considered progress, as a greater understanding can be achieved and the solution becomes clearer. A good question must have good intentions behind it to instill confidence in the recipients and help them add to the solution.
- Good questions must be brief and direct.
The more information a question contains, the more confusing it will be for the recipient to consider a response. If more information is needed, ask a question that probes for the recipient to elaborate, and then ask more questions to follow up on the base question. Consider this as a process similar to chiseling a sculpture: one cannot chip away all of the stone at once, but must do it slowly and effectively to produce the desired final product.
- Good questions must adapt to the specific experience of the recipient.
This may seem obvious: a person simply cannot pose a question about chemical engineering to a marketing professional (unless they are marketing a chemical engineering product!). Be sure to ask the right person who has the ability to answer the question in mind, or else ask how to find the most qualified expert for the solution. Implementing a system like SolvePath can help facilitate this process very easily by automatically notifying the most relevant internal subject-experts, as soon as a question is posted on the SolvePath Q&A platform.
- Good questions must be thought-provoking.
At work, employees need to ask questions that make the listener think about a comprehensive response. Sometimes, the person will know the answer immediately and can provide a solution quickly. In this case, the question-bearer has the benefit of consulting with a qualified expert, but this is not always typical. A question that can be answered instantly is not always a good thing and can mean that the person has asked an obvious question. A recipient who takes a minute to gather thoughts and create an encompassing response will often provide effective solutions.
- Good questions challenge people’s assumptions and promote innovative thinking.
A person can ask questions not just to find answers, but change a person’s perspective. This component builds on asking thought-provoking questions while adding an element of creativity. People who must step back to consider their own positions on the subject may be inclined to add ideas that will create different approaches to a solution, thus fostering the creation of new ideas and better answers. To enable this approach across large organizations, companies may use a Questions and Answers platform, like SolvePath. Enterprise Q&A software facilitate the innovative process by permitting a free-flow of information within a company that will challenge assumptions and change perspectives.
These components need not be included in every single question. Whether a single characteristic is sufficient or several must be used to create a question makes no difference. The point is that any given thoughtful question can maintain one or more characteristics that will facilitate information-gathering and solution-finding.
Try Senexx’s new Sandbox – an interactive demo of Solvepath! The Sandbox allows you to get an in-depth explanation of how Solvepath works, and simplifies the task of getting answers.
- (2009). The Characteristics of Good Questions. http://thethingsilikeandlove.blogspot.co.il/2009/05/characteristics-of-good-questions.html
- Ross, J. (2009) How to Ask Better Questions. http://blogs.hbr.org/hmu/2009/05/real-leaders-ask.html