One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about leadership (and life, for that matter) is the value of constantly asking questions. This isn’t questioning for questioning’s sake, but rather, inquiry to learn.
When we ask questions, we tend to do so for three reasons:
· One, we’re truly interested in the topic that the person is speaking about and we want to increase our learning.
· Two, we’re trying to make conversation and want to be polite.
· Three, we’re interested in our own learning and the furthering of the learning of the one asking the question.
We’ve all likely engaged in all three of these questioning reasons, and I would advocate that we all need to set the goal of questioning for bullet #3.
When we question for our own learning, and for the learning of others, we make the most of every conversation scenario. Questioning for two-way learning means that both parties are equally interested, which means that the problem-solving and idea generation will tend to be at its most rich.
I’ve learned this through trial and error, mostly because in the past, I didn’t yet realize that even if I’m not sure how interested I am in the topic, every question asked has a key relevance factor. While the exact topic at hand might not influence me directly, I’m being asked the question for a reason, so part of my goal is to dig in to determine what I can offer, and what I can learn.
Along with putting myself into a more effective questioning frame, I find that leading through questioning also has helped me to change the manner in which I offer up questions. I now tend to lean towards “I Wonder. . . “ statements (or questions) as a way to elicit deeper thinking, thanks to the excellent usage of this strategy by my supervisor and mentor, Dr. Marla Gardner.
What’s nice about “I Wonder. . . “ is that it pushes thinking without pushing anything personal. It is simply that, a wondering. And while it might be a lead-in with purpose, it makes no claims, has no surface agenda, and puts the questioning on the asker, rather than making the answerer uncomfortable.
What I also love about “I Wonder. . . “ is it forces me to think about what I can learn from the answer to the question. Since it is automatically framed from my perspective, if I’m being honest with myself and with the person who I’m wondering with, then I have to be invested in hearing what the answer will be.
Leading through questioning has done wonders for me and my way of asking and seeking out information (and in helping me, as well as others, to reflect). And one of the easiest ways to make that questioning change? Simply start with “I Wonder. . .”