Select Page


When I was growing up, I envied the little boy next door. His mom asked him questions. Would you like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or soup for lunch? Will you spend the afternoon reading a book or playing?

That’s not how it worked at my house. My folks, especially mom, told me how it was going to be.

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. ~Chinese proverb

While I don’t think Mom intended for it to turn out this way, her telling style was a good life lesson. How so? It prepared me to deal with command-and-control style bosses who wanted answers straight up.

As I grew older, the questions my dad asked took a different twist. His inquiries began with “have you thought about,” “how/why,” or “help me understand.” Dad wanted to assure that I was thinking things through.

He prepared me to work for bosses who wanted thoughtful answers that demonstrated a command of the issues.

Early on, I worked for a boss whose questions tested both our logic and emotion.

His style was akin to that of Socrates, who was “well known for using questioning to probe the validity of an assumption, analyze the logic of an argument, and explore the unknown.”

That boss wanted to know how we were going to achieve both quality and quantity or how we would meet our short-term goals without jeopardizing our long-term position. Answering his inquiries demanded deeper thought and analysis of the big picture.

Only years later did it hit me that dealing with people who asked in different ways had gifted me with a well-rounded repertoire of knowing how to respond to different types of questions.

The key to wisdom is this: constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth. ~Peter Abelard

Sometimes questions are more important than answers because questions:

    • Lead to discovery and meaning.
    • Eliminate confusion or point to hidden agendas.
    • Help people to reflect and develop critical thinking skills.
    • Clarify intent and understanding.
    • Aid people in making sense of their surroundings.
    • Distinguish fact from fiction.
    • Define our purpose.
    • Provoke lively debate.
    • Satisfy people’s curiosity.
    • Prompt people to assess their assumptions.

A good question disrupts, inspires, shows humility, and opens closed doors.

The O.C. Tanner Institute learned that:

“asking the right question increased the odds of someone’s work having a positive affect on others by 4.1 times. It made the outcome 3.1 times more likely to be deemed important, 2.8 times more likely to create passion in the doer, and 2.7 times more likely to make a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.”

Why do some people ask fewer questions as they get older?

Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas with Mu Sigma polled 200 of their clients.

  • Clients who had children estimated that 70-80% of their kids’ dialogues were questions.
  • Those same clients guessed that only 15-25% of their own interactions consisted of questions.

Tom and Neethi attribute the reduction in the number of questions asked by the adults to working in a you-need-to-get-it-done-yesterday business environment.

Their advice?

“Leaders should encourage people to ask more questions, based on the goals they’re trying to achieve, instead of having them rush to deliver answers. In order to make the right decisions, people need to start asking the questions that really matter.” ~Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas

Asking questions that really matter + actively listening to the answer + critically reviewing what’s been shared = a good thing.

Do a good thing today, okay?


Image source before quote: Pixabay