The Nobel prize-winning Jewish physicist Isidore Rabi once explained that his mother taught him how to be a scientist. ‘Every other child would come back from school and be asked, “What did you learn today?” But my mother used to ask, instead, “Izzy, did you ask a good question today?”’ (Source) There is divided opinion on if a person can ask a “bad” question, but it’s unanimous that some questions are better at bringing about thoughtful or rich responses.
If a person wants to get better at asking questions, specifically of herself, there might be a few practices that can help to grow in question-asking skill. For more thoughts on asking good questions, a podcast with journalist Dean Nelson on the power of inquiry and getting people – maybe even your own self – to open up.
- Use the power of 3 Why’s. When confronted with a fact (or opinion), ask of it: why? And when that response has surfaced, ask of it again, why? Some industries, such as IT, extend it even to 5 Why’s because there is so much information under the surface of an assumption. The simple task of asking why rather than making assumptions will unearth a hearty soil for growing curiosity.
- Don’t ask questions that will only be used to confirm a suspicion. Instead, find a way to allow the question to open the door to other observations and ideas. Instead of “Why didn’t you like dinner this evening?” ask, “What were you hoping for from your dinner this evening.” Assumptions hidden within questions narrow responses.
- Recognize that questions can accomplish both “information exchange” rather than “impression management.” HBR reports that spending more time asking questions actually lead to a more favorable experience of a person. Use your questions as a means of connection, beyond simple information.