In our book Evolutionaries we observe that Evolutionaries, on average, ask more questions than other leaders. They know that in order to innovate, inspire and transform, they have to consistently tap into the population they lead for ideas, feedback, and to check for understanding.
But if you want to transform an organization or change the world, you have to change the way people think and create an environment where they can develop. You can’t just ask questions – you have to ask the right questions. And, there’s an art to that…
In my work as a facilitator, I am often asked, “How did you achieve alignment with this group? We never thought that was possible…” I tell them it’s not about me. The alignment already exists in the group – but revealing it is all about the questions we ask.
So, what makes a question good?
Bloom’s Taxonomy tells us that there are four major question categories: 1) Recall 2) Analytical 3) Discovery 4) Evaluative
While this kind of foundation is certainly helpful, getting the most out of a thirty minute interview, a ten minute coaching session, a five minute customer interaction, a one hour focus group, or a two-day strategic planning session requires precision questions designed to optimize the moment – soliciting the information, beliefs, and desires that will make all the difference.
Questions that require an inference are useful, pushing people to take the facts that they know and then draw logical conclusions. And questions that ask for interpretation are nice – asking people to explore the possible consequences of certain information or ideas, for example. We can learn a lot from inference and interpretation questions.
But, we have to push further if we want stronger results. Good coaching, for instance, requires that we first diagnose the developmental stage of the person we are trying to coach. Questions that ask people to transfer what they know to a new place, a new situation, or an unexpected outcome will tell you a lot about the person you are trying to learn more about. Another term for this kind of application is “bridging”. When it comes to business strategy, the questions we ask must push people to a new level of thinking – to elicit a hypothesis based on known factors of the business environment. Good strategy depends on the practice of predictive thinking through the use of applied knowledge. Hypothesis questions take time to answer, require hard work, and can even make many people feel uncomfortable. They are the kind of questions that cause us to, well… question things.
And finally, in the hierarchy of the art of questioning, we reach the king of all questions – the reflective question. Reflective questions ask us to use our knowledge to uncover, reveal and examine our most basic assumptions. They are “sit and meditate” questions. And they are unmatched in their transformative potential. That’s why we see Evolutionaries use reflective questions most of all. They know the power of these questions to not just drive change, but change who we are for the better.