One of the most profound transformations that both of us have experienced in the last ten years has occurred through the use of questions, particularly curious open questions. Asking questions has changed how we think and helped us become more curious and more open in our thought process. Many of our clients have indicated a similar experience. Although they struggled initially with asking rather than telling, as they mindfully set their intention to ask questions, they became more open, non-judging, and generally curious about what others were saying in order to understand them.
As children, we are like little sponges, eager to learn and filled with curiosity, asking questions freely (and sometimes really good questions). Yet as adults, so many of us have lost that ability to be curious, that desire to learn more.
Types of Questions
Great leaders, innovative thinkers, and collaborative partners all know new possibilities and opportunities stem from asking a certain type of question. Curiosity is achieved through asking a certain type of question, too. Let’s look at some different types of questions and how each type can support you in becoming curious and understanding others.
Closed questions can be answered with yes or no. As you begin to be mindful about the questions you ask and are asked, you may notice many people expand on the yes or no when responding to closed questions.
Question: Do you want chicken for dinner?
Response: No, I don’t think I want chicken. I thought I might pick up sushi on my way home from work.
Judging Closed Questions
As the name implies, these are questions generated from judging others and can be answered with yes or no. We find people tend to use these questions when being sarcastic or humorous at the expense of another, which is a form of judging.
- Did you screw up and create this mess?
- Are you going to continue to be a lazy couch potato forever?
- Can you stop daydreaming and pay attention to what I am saying?
Curious Open Questions
Our favorite type of questions! With curious open questions, the person asking the question does not have an answer and does not intend to judge or blame. Curious open questions promote inductive reasoning, which leads to an expansion of the conversation, where anything goes. For example:
- What was it like to parachute out of a plane?
- How can I help you with that?
- What can I do differently to better support you?
Leading Open Questions
These questions begin with the same words as curious open questions—how, who, what, where, when, which, and why—but they are not curious because the person asking the question already knows the answer. For example, an instructor may ask a student:
- Who is the author of this book?
- What era was the book based on?
In this case, the instructor is fully aware of the answers to each of these questions and is asking them to verify whether the student has, in fact, read the book and grasps its fundamentals.
Judging Open Questions
Sometimes we think we are asking a curious open question because we don’t know the answer, and we start the question with how, who, what, where, when, or why. However, when the question contains negative words that convey judging, blaming, and shaming, we are asking a judging open question. This approach results in pushing the responder’s emotional buttons, triggering an outcome that does not generate curiosity or learning.
Parent: How could you be so clumsy and spill your milk? What is going on with you?
Although the parent may not know how the milk was spilled, the manner in which the question has been asked implies they do with a judging, blaming and even shaming tone.
Let’s take a look at what each type of question might look like in a single situation:
A friend is going for a job interview, and she really wants this office job. She feels she has the skills and experience required, and the job could be a good fit and a great opportunity for her. She has talked to you about what she might wear; she has a new low-cut red dress that she bought for a party and is thinking of wearing it.
Closed question: Do you want to wear your low-cut red dress for this interview?
Judging closed question: Do you really want to wear your low-cut red dress to your interview?
Curious open question: What is your reason for wearing your low-cut red dress to your interview?
Leading open question: How appropriate is your low-cut red dress for this interview?
Judging open question: Why would you want to wear such a low-cut dress to your interview?
There is value and a time and place for each type of question, which we explore deeper in The Power of Curiosity: How to Have Real Conversations That Create Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding. (Featured in the Holiday Gift Guide for Him 2014: Second Edition)
TAKE ACTION: Looking at the types of questions above, what types of questions do you find yourself using most? How come? How does that type of question support you in curiosity and understanding others?
How do I deal with drama at work?
Don’t give up!
- Put up boundaries! Get clear about what you value, what you want and instill boundaries to support yourself.
- Pay attention to the role you are playing – if it doesn’t involve you or your projects how come you are getting tied up in it? (Go back to number 1)
- Treat others like you want to be treated. It is really easy in high stakes drama situations to judge, blame and shame others without even know it.