If you want people to take a deeper look at a situation and better understand the underlying problems or opportunities they face, start with the right questions.
In the US culture we have a tendency to jump right into problem solving before we even take the time to question what is happening and what we would prefer happen. The right questions can stop us from making rash judgments and totally missing a more effective solution.
All good research begins with questions. All good strategic decisions come from asking smart, informed and future-focused questions. Good questions can help us discover an elegant solution and resist a potentially prescriptive and bureaucratic one.
And in a potentially charged situation, getting everyone to start with questions—instead of opinions—can reopen their minds to new information. Once we move to defending positions, we have closed down our options. Our minds have convinced us we have the answer even if we have a premature one. We don’t even have to overtly engage in answering the questions for them to work their magic in reopening our minds.
Name a methodology of analysis, decision making, innovation or continuous improvement, and you will find it begins with questions. And frankly, that same methodology probably ends just as it began—with a commitment to keep asking questions to test the continued appropriateness of the decision or solution.
The next time you face a particularly challenging, complex or contentious situation, try crafting two to three questions that would lead to a deeper understanding or open the way to alternative options. You could be surprised by how quickly the right questions can free you to choose the best change possible.