As consultants, our job is to find solutions to our client’s problems, yet we start with very little context or knowledge about the history of the problem. Often we are asked to help because our clients think we have experience in the domain or some advanced technical knowledge. In many cases this is true, but what really makes us effective is the ability to ask questions about the situation. Questions are a consultant’s superpower.
The quality of your life is a direct reflection of the quality of the questions you are asking yourself.Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny!
The secret to getting quality results is to ask quality questions. A quality question is direct and leads you closer to a solution. The question creates personal awareness both consciously and unconsciously that leads you to look for solutions. This is done by the reticular activation system in your brain. Have you ever noticed that once you buy a new car you start seeing that car everywhere? This is because your brain is no longer filtering this information out. It becomes a greater part of your awareness. Quality questions stimulate this effect.
What makes a quality question?
- They don’t assume a negative
- They are calibrated to known information
- They are worded to lead to an answer
- They lead to more and better quality questions
An example of a quality question is “What can I do everyday to get me to my goal of…” as compared to “Why does everything I try fail”. Notice the first question doesn’t assumes a negative about the subject and leads towards better quality questions.
Often the trickiest part to asking the correct questions is the calibration. Calibration is something that comes with experience in situations. The most experienced consultants are often calibrated to situations they’ve frequently seen, but even the experienced need to recalibrate depending on certain factors.
The Receptiveness of the Interviewee to the Questions
The calibration of questions is often subtle. You don’t want to phrase the questions in a way that makes them feel the issue is their fault. This is often an issue if the interviewee is in charge of the problem area. You want to tune the calibration in order to learn from them and to see what is going right about the situation. Then work your way into why things aren’t working.
Consider how you would ask yourself these questions. For example, asking “What is wrong with me?” preassumes that there is something wrong with you and starts you looking at the negatives. If you rephrase the question as “What do I need to do to get different results?”, makes the question actionable and doesn’t preassume a negative about you. Now apply that to our example. Asking the tech lead “why are things consistently breaking?” may put the lead on a defensive, but starting with “What needs to happen to improve the quality?” Doesn’t assume it their fault and makes them feel like they are part of the solution.
The right question always simplifies the problem and makes it solvable. A problemKeith Cunningham
should never be a statement of fact… A problem is simply an unanswered
question… So frame the problem as a question.
How Much is Known about the Issue
The calibration is often more along the lines of asking direct, specific, and more open-ended questions. Asking specific questions assumes you know enough about the issue to get into the weeds, but if you don’t know much about the context of the situation a specific question won’t help. You need to ask more broad and open-ended questions such as:
- What is happening here?
- What are the end results?
- Where are we starting?
- What’s the mission?
The answer to these questions gives you critical information that will guide you to asking the specific question that will reveal the heart of the issues.
Think about how calibrating the scope of the question applies in your personal life. If you ask yourself “Do I turn down Elm Street or Sesame Street?” means nothing if you don’t first ask yourself “Where am I going?”.
Quality often trumps quantity, especially if resources are limited. However, quantity can be helpful if you are stuck, need to brainstorm, and/or are trying to recalibrate your approach. If you don’t know the issue or can’t seem to make headway, ask more questions. Quantity is a path to calibration.
When in doubt ask questionsRyan Van Fleet
The more information you have, the more ideas you have to work with. However, this can lead to information overload. The trick here is to have good questions to guide you back on track. Some great examples are
- What information is relative to the issue?
- What haven’t I asked yet?
- What am I not seeing?
- What is important to the situation that hasn’t been addressed?
- Who has solved this problem before?
- What optics do I need?
- How do I measure improvement?
- Are all my assumptions correct?
Using questions is a powerful way to work through a problem to a solution. The secret is to ask questions about the questions you are asking and create awareness about Quality, Calibration, and Quantity. Using these three pillars you can turn questions into your superpower.