The Art of Asking

“If the apple falls, does the moon also fall?” asked Issac Newton. This solitary question was the spark that led to the Industrial Revolution. Questions have the power to change things. And If we let them they can change us. The trick is to learn the art of asking questions. Here are three levels of questions.

Level 1: Asking Questions to Learn
Somewhere in between elementary school and middle school I stopped asking questions. I can remember sitting in my little plastic chair – paralyzed – not understanding what the teacher was saying. I wanted to understand, but I was not willing to ask a question.

Why? 

Because I was afraid. Afraid of what? “All fear stems from ‘I am not enough’ or ‘I don’t have enough.’ says Paul Martinelli. As a youngster, I was struggling with the 'I'm not enough' part of that quote.

I was afraid because I felt inferior. I didn’t want to be laughed at. So I stopped asking questions. I entered into my own personal dark ages. As a thirty-something, I realized that too many times I’ve tried to protect my image instead of grow my knowledge. The tradeoff of remaining silent and not asking questions is staggering.

Silence vs. Asking a Question

  1. You trade a life full of confidence for a lack of confidence. 
  2. You trade wise decision making for poor decision making. 
  3. You trade clear focus for a mental fog. 
  4. You trade security for insecurity. 

One of the hurtful lies we believe is that we should have all the answers. We don’t. And we don’t need to.  Knowledge is all around us. All we have to do is ask. When I’m interviewing someone for a job, it’s the person who asks questions that catches my eye. Not the one who is silent.

The truth about asking questions is this, it's actually the smart thing to do. Asking questions makes you look proactive and growth minded, not dumb. 

 

Level 2: Asking Myself Questions to Grow
John Maxwell said, “Questions are always part of a leader's life. The only issue is, who's asking the question? As a leader, I can allow others to ask me the hard and important questions, or I can take responsibility, be proactive, and ask those questions of myself. “
 

Growth leaders ask themselves questions regularly. These questions foster our growth and responsibility. There are two types of questions we ask ourselves: preemptive and reflective.

Preemptive Questions
Preemptive questions are the ones we know others will ask us. Anticipating those questions before hand and having answers for them separates good leaders from great leaders. Think of a debate team preparing. They don’t just prepare their own arguments, they anticipate the arguments of their opponents. That’s what good leaders do. They anticipate the questions others will ask and are ready to respond.

Reflective Questions
Socrates is famous for saying, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Asking ourselves reflective questions is the way we examine our lives. Reflective questions are the ones that we ask ourselves - they spur introspection and fuel personal growth. Here is a list of questions John Maxwell asks himself:

  1. Am I investing in myself?
  2. Am I genuinely interested in others?
  3. How will I add value to my team today?
  4. Am I staying in my strength zone?
  5. Am I surrounded by the right people?

 

Level 3: Asking Questions to Teach
All of the great teachers in history used questions to teach. This is the third level of questions. Anyone can teach by dumping information on people. This is how we experienced learning in the West. We collect facts instead of asking questions.

The Socratic Method was implemented by using questions, rather than answers or statements. This form of teaching has stood the test of time and I’d like to see it make a comeback. I’ll never forget what one professor said to a student in biology class. The student was trying to understand what was being taught, she kept insisting for the answer, but the professor kept asking her questions.  After a minute, the student became visibly frustrated. Striking a nerve, the professor looked directly at her and said, “I’ll never give you the answer, but I’ll always lead you to it.”

That spoke volumes to me. The professor was trying to increase her understanding rather than give an answer. The heart of all learning is understanding, not answers. Questions birth understanding and understanding gives way to action. It’s actually possible to know the answer to a question and not understand why. This is how most kids experience ‘education’ in the public school system – answers trump understanding. It’s a tragic loss.

Jesus Christ was the smartest person on earth and asked tons of questions. The New Testament records Jesus asking 307 questions. I think it’s safe to say He wasn’t looking for answers, He was helping others understand. 

Jesus was asked 183 questions, of which he only answers 3. He wasn’t big on answers - He was big on questions.

 

Conclusion
What’s the root word of question? Quest. Asking the right questions will take you on a quest. The quest of lifetime.  All we have to do is learn the art of asking. Newton asked a question and transformed the world.  That’s why we need questions. Answers inform – questions transform.