Asking Good Questions


“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the answer, I would spend the first 55 minutes figuring out the proper questions to ask. For if I knew the proper questions, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes."- Albert Einstein

Have you ever sat across from someone who was not just a good listener, but a fantastic questioner?

If you've had that experience, and if the nature of the questions didn't make you feel like you were on a witness stand (!), you likely felt both valued and esteemed.

Being the object of interest is not merely flattering, but deeply affirming.  By being interested in others, we communicate that their opinions and thoughts matter.

My natural bend is toward story telling, which often makes me a lousy questioner.  As a result, I do best when I have a strategy around what to ask.

Sure, that may sound clinical and overly structured, but thinking through your questions can dramatically improve the quality of the answers.  Right, Einstein?

Ineffective Questions

  • How was school?
  • How did the meeting go?
  • What was your day like?
  • How was work today?
  • What was your favorite ____ (anything)?

Even knowing how vague or impossible to answer these questions are (Favorite?? As in "all time" favorite?  Hmmmm.), they are still my default words.  I've been working on making my questions more interesting.

New Questions

  • Did anything at school make you happy (or sad) today?
  • Did you learn anything at the meeting?
  • Tell me a story about something you thought was interesting today.
  • Were you pleased with how project "xyz" went at work?
  • If you could repeat part of your day (or have a "do over?") what would it be?

When I use different questions at work, I can feel people stop and wonder what I'm up to!  At home,  some of these questions prompt eye rolls from the family, but that's o.k.  (I'm a mom and if I don't reach my quota of eye rolls by the time the kids graduate, I'll lose my certification!)

For me, the point is to be more intentional in how I connect with others.

Of course, one of the masters of questioning these days has a "set list" for how he ends every interview.  Check out this fun remix of James Lipton asking his "10 Questions" on Inside the Actor's Studio.

If you wanted to be more intentional at home, work, or with friends, what would be the 10 questions YOU'D ask?