Amity Institute Of Training & Development

Thank You for Asking

“Thank you for your insightful questions!” said the host at the end of the event. That was a rarity to hear in my growing up years. So, despite being excited about being a part of the audience in a coveted event in my firm, when the Mic was being passed around audience, I let it pass. That was not a first, but one of many times.

Perhaps mental conditioning, fear of sounding stupid or ignorant or just inability to frame my thoughts into a question were my blockers then. But I knew I am missing an opportunity to learn, to trigger a thought or a genuine exchange to connect at a deeper level with the others. Answers are rewarded... questions are… well. Questionable. In a world of here and now, tolerating questions itself is rare, forget about encouraging. “Don’t come to me with questions-come to me with answers”, Who has the time?, I am superior- I know it all?, Why disrupt? And the list is endless….

It took quite a few years and mentoring and good leadership from some of my mentors for me to ditch that hitch and embrace asking questions and encourage them too. The motto was -Better to ask and risk appearing stupid than to continue on your ignorant way and make a stupid mistake. But no one should actually need help in asking questions…right? I mean.. is it not a like an elementary aspect we are born with! That’s what most people may think. While human beings may be the only primates gifted with this to learn and to exchange information, it indeed is a skill that needs to be grown, encouraged and honed.

Among zillions of doctrines of questioning, the fundamental one is human connect… whether it is with a child to elders or in general of one with other humans in the personal and professional world. Asking questions displays a genuine desire to know about others or learn from others, which builds empathy. Asking a friend about how she/he is or what happened, helps deepen the bond. In a group with strangers, questioning can build rapport and relationships. In learning setups, questioning helps and aids learning and gain knowledge and share perspectives. In workspaces as well, it is pretty much the central nervous system in so many ways. Our work depends on answers to questions all the time. “What do you think about this?” is such a question- when my senior asked me this, it defined ownership, building competence, confidence, empowerment and so much more for me. When leaders ask the team for ideas/opinions, it builds trust and empowerment and spurs growth. It also helps avoid so many blind spots and snares.

The scientific premise behind asking questions is simple- Curiosity of how things/the world work/s, what happens if it is done this way or the other- we can call it gaining/deepening knowledge. Better ways to do things to new ways of solving to creativity all erupt from the volcano of questions if its allowed open. Of course there is as much weight in doing it right or wrong. A wrong question or a wrong way of asking could change the whole course of things too.

There is a whole lot of research and science behind the art of asking questions or asking the right question and so on. I think its not one particular theory or one way to do it. It is learnt by first opening up and accepting the idea and then observing and practicing. If one is a shy person by nature, even answering questions is not easy so asking questions is a far cry. But some knowing tactics is a sure help to grow the mindset of asking questions- a simple and a popular one is Warren Berger’s 3 part system of inquiry.

It is a rudimentary yet phenomenal method. He calls it The Why, What If, and How of Innovative Questioning. [Ref: - A More Beautiful Question]

Warren writes, asking Why, What if, and How, in that order, can help one advance through three critical stages of problem-solving. “Why” questions are ideal for coming to grips with an existing challenge or problem–helping us understand why the problem exists, why it hasn’t been solved already, and why it might be worth tackling. “What if” questions can be used to explore fresh ideas for possible improvements or solutions to the problem, from a hypothetical standpoint. When it’s time to act on those ideas, the most effective types of questions are practical, action-oriented ones that focus on “how”: how to give form to ideas, how to test and refine them with the goal of transforming possibility into reality. This cycle of inquiry can be seen in many of the stories of recent innovations by companies such as Netflix, Pandora, Square, Nest, and Airbnb. Or, for a more timeless example, take the invention of the Polaroid instant camera.

In summary, WHY can be the game changer. What if possibilities are the seeds of innovation. How is the action stage of inquiry.

But this isn’t like a master key—there should not be one. The idea is first being open to ask and encourage others to ask and using inquiry to progress. Albert Einstein said –“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing”

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By: Vidya Akkireddy


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