Achieve Better Outcomes by Asking Better Questions

bearded man in white shirt holding his chin surrounded by question marks - featured image for asking better questions blog by truby achievements

Masters have said for centuries, “The answer is in the question.” I’ve found this to be deeply true. What you ask, how you ask it…even how you formulate a question, has a profound effect on the answer, AND what you do.  

Studies that show how our minds work suggest that our subconscious mind is constantly asking questions. Shall I sit here or there? Do I want to eat this or that? How shall I act around this person? What shall I say to THAT? In the deepest part of our thought processing throughout the day, we ask questions, we don’t start by making statements.

Yet we are not conscious of these questions. Typically, we are only conscious about the answers to these subconscious questions. “I will sit here because…” and “I will act this way around that person because….” But how the question was formulated in our subconscious mind had a very influential part in our decision. AND, if the answer is in the question, and we’re only conscious of the answer, we’re missing a valuable piece of our thought process.

When we can become conscious of our questions, we will notice that they are often laced with blame, generalizations or biases. “Why is that report on YOUR desk?” (Blame) “How come you ALWAYS do that?” (Generalization) “Why do you always go against what people with common sense should already know?” (Blame, generalization and bias).

Notice how an answer is truly a result of the question. If you ask, “Where are you going?” it will give a completely different answer than, “Why are you leaving so early?” If you ask your teenager, “Why do you disappoint me so?” it causes a completely different response than, “How come your room is not cleaned after you promised you would do it?”

It’s clear, then; if we can understand the question, even better formulate a question, we’ll be more in control of choosing an answer for ourselves AND getting more appropriate answers from others.

How can we do this?

First, you can become conscious of the subconscious questions that fill your day and govern our behavior. To find the subconscious question, try asking a conscious one. Observe your behavior for a short period of time. With each act, ask yourself, “What was the question behind my doing THAT?” Simply becoming aware of your action and asking that question brings the subconscious question to the surface.

When you do this, three things occur: First, you can make a better decision about how you want to act by understanding the validity of the question that precluded your action. Second, awareness of the question allows you the choice to reformulate it if the question is inappropriate. And third, doing this, even for a short period of time, puts you more in control of YOU.

For questions you ARE conscious of, especially those you are asking others, listen carefully to your choice of words. Ask yourself another question, “What outcome am I looking for here?” and “Does my question lead the person toward that outcome?” (In this case, it’s ok to lead the witness – smile).

Bill Truby

Founder and President of Truby Achievements