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What Makes Effective Questions…Effective?

Author and international expert, Ed Oakley, is a master at asking truly effective questions. In his book, Enlightened Leadership, he describes what makes effective questions, effective. Here are excerpts from Ed’s book on this important subject. 

In simple terms, the human mind, which is far more powerful than any computer devised by mankind, basically works by continually looking for answers to questions it receives from a variety of sources. No matter what questions are asked, answers are generated at some point. Just as a car runs differently depending upon what type of fuel it uses, the mind runs differently depending on the types of questions it is asked to answer.

The Reactive Thinkers in the world (about 80% of all people) run on questions like "What’s wrong with this situation? How is this going to hurt me? How can I avoid being blamed for this?" You get the idea. Notice that the answers to these questions, which the mind works hard to provide, do not support moving forward. Instead, they tend to keep us trapped right where we are. Questions like these tend to de-energize and disempower us and make us defensive and unproductive.

The Creative Thinkers (20% of the population), on the other hand, tend to run on questions like "What value can we gain from this situation? How can we benefit from this? How can we turn this into an opportunity? And, what can we do to make this a win for everyone?" As we have seen, questions such as these empower and give us information we can use to move forward. In this scenario, our minds are continually focused forward and generating solution based ideas and solutions. It is up to us to act on these ideas, and the results produced from that action empowers us to even greater levels.

By utilizing EQs (Effective Questions), we consciously choose the kinds of questions that fuel our mind and guide us. We choose the questions that will be most supportive of our continuing growth and success.

Benefits of Asking Effective Questions (EQs)

EQs provide a vital empowerment bridge from the mindset we currently have, to the mindset we want to possess. They accomplish this by effectively addressing mindset issues in a number of different ways. EQs:

  • get people to think.
  • empower people by allowing them to discover their own answers, thus developing self-responsibility and transference of ownership for the results.
  • "mine" the real experts, your people, for better ways to achieve objectives.
  • help people realize how what they are doing contributes to the whole.
  • develop people who feel fulfilled, satisfied and valued.
  • build positive attitudes and self-esteem in individual members of the team.
  • remove blocks and open people up to unexplored possibilities, while inviting discovery, creativity and innovation.
  • help us determine what it will take to do what has not been done before.
  • guide us toward where we want to go, while providing value out of where we have been.
  • enable leaders to understand what a person or team wants and the conditions upon which they will buy into organizational goals.
  • involve people in management and decision-making processes, thus generating commitment to the solution or answer.
  • develop alignment within teams and draw out the optimum performance from individual members and the team as a whole.
  • create a high-energy, high-trust environment.
  • encourage people to identify, clarify and express their needs and wants.
  • encourage people to take risks.
  • recondition people from only knowing what to think, to knowing how to think.
  • connect the what’s-in-it-for-me with what needs to be done.
  • nurture deeper relationships.
  • dissolve resistance to change.

Questions that Disempower

Questions can be productive, or they can be counterproductive. They can bring out creativity or squelch it. Let’s look at some questions to which we can probably all relate.

  • Why are you so far behind schedule?
  • What’s the problem on this project?
  • Why are you so far behind the other teams?
  • What’s your problem?
  • Who isn’t keeping up?
  • Who did that?
  • Why did you do that?
  • Who made that decision?
  • Don’t you know better than that?
  • Who wants to tell the boss about this?

It is easy to see that in order for questions to encourage they must be forward focused and not seeking to lay blame, find fault or ask for excuses. Effective Questions are an extremely focused way to engage, encourage and bring out the best in your people.

Thanks to our friends at Houston Partners International for recommending Ed’s great book, Enlightened Leadership.