A Brief Guide to Ask Better Questions and Tell Less

Rihanna was a toddler. She would wander through the world, pointing at things. She was questioning her way to greater knowledge and forcing everyone to answer her question. She was questioning her way to better connect with the world around her. 

From a toddler “what is that?” is a question in its purest form and the answer to you to me is almost irrelevant. The fact that the answer is a car, a microphone, a laptop; we know that and it doesn’t matter. 

But the beauty in that situation is the question, not the answer. And that’s because when it comes to questions, context is everything. 

In the 18th century, the French philosopher Voltaire said, “judge a man by his questions.” And in this blog, I will hope to show you how right he was. 

1. Focus on questions, not their answer

 If we get back to Rihanna somewhere as we grow older things change. The toddler starts off asking questions. But as we progress into education we start to focus more and more on the answer, indeed the question starts to no longer be questioned. 

As we reach secondary school we start chasing exam results. We don’t think about the question at all. All we want to do is come up with the answer that is required to get the grade.

The question is no longer questioned and the question is something that is set by someone else. 

In that scenario, we’re not thinking enough about the question and we bring this into our adult lives. And we bring a belief that for any question there is a

correct answer. 

Maybe there’s only one correct answer but life isn’t really like that. So, let’s get back to the basics of infanthood and rediscover your childlike curiosity. 

2. Ask more, tell less.

Questions are all around and of course answers matter. But in day-to-day life questions matter even more.

The questions of discovery are beautiful and they can never be used too much. They forge connections, they help us empathize, they help us get to know people, they help us understand why things are as they are.

If you’re on a first date, you will be far more successful if you ask somebody about themselves rather than tell them about you. Ask more and tell less.

Questions like, how did it feel when? How was that? How was school today? What do you feel about that? Tell me some more. These questions can never be used too much; they’re great questions.

3. Judge a Person By His Questions

But not all questions are good, some questions are bad, and some are even worse. We’ve all heard that question “Does my bum look big in this?” in this that is not a question that is a statement.

And it tells you so much about the emotional state, the fragility, the self-esteem of the person asking that question. That is a question to sidestep, do not answer it. That question is a trap and lets me explain why it’s a trap.

First of all, it’s a trap because it presents the options as a simple binary choice, it makes you think it’s a very simple thing to answer. Because it’s trying to get you to say yes or no but of course life is rarely that simple. 

4. Understand Trap of Yes/No Questions 

These questions offer a kind of seemingly simple choice, a binary choice of yes/no. They’re further compounded by several other things. 

First of all the yes/no option, in my experience, hides a multitude of complexity. Offering a simple yes/no choice simplifies something more complicated. 

And the other problem with a yes/no question is that yes can mean so many things. There is the emphatic yes, then there is the more regular yes, then there is the yes with a but coming. Then there is the no, not really.

So, it’s just not that straightforward. 

5. Ask the Second Question to a Yes/No Question

Should we go to the cinema on Friday? Yes, we all agree, let’s go to the cinema on Friday. Well let’s see what’s on first we agree we’ll go to the cinema but then having answered that question. We then have to confront the second question. We have to confront the real question. And the real question is what’s on and do we want to see it?

Maybe when we see that the options are a romantic comedy, a kids cartoon, or perhaps a foreign language film with subtitles. Maybe we won’t fancy it, maybe no, let’s not go to the cinema on Friday. 

The second question is the real question. The second question is the information in a more complete situation. Often with the second question, we go back and change the first question. We don’t like the options at the cinema so no let’s not going to the cinema on Friday.

6. Asking The Right Question 

Childlike curiosity is good for us all. Why is that happening? How did that happen? Why do they feel that way? Why is he saying that? 

And these questions can never be used too much. But as you use these questions going through life be careful with your language. Small changes can have a big impact.

Let me give you an example, your child comes home from school and of course, you want to know how their day went. So a great question would be, “how was school today?” I have mastered a good question but you’re a parent who wants them to do well in math. And you said, “I bet math was good today.” You’ve made a subtle shift from how math is today – I bet math was good today. 

You’ve gone from a question to a statement and your statement has completely closed the dialogue. And not only has it closed the dialogue, but you’ve also told your child what you want to hear. 

You’ve told them you want to hear that math was good today. But the world might not be like that. It is important to ask more and tell less. 

My Final Thoughts

So, please as you go through life ask lots of questions and never stop exploring. But make sure you discover your childlike curiosity, find that childlike curiosity. Ask those questions to connect with the community, to connect with the world around you, and to empathize with your community. 

Unlearn the desire that there is a correct answer to every question. And never trust a “yes/no” question. But above all for every question that you hear, ask yourself what that question says of the person who is asking it. Because that is the true art of asking questions.

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