The questions you ask determine the answers you get
I recently heard a story about a woman whose husband died suddenly of a heart attack. During his life he had built up a business from scratch and over the years turned it into a very successful organisation which turned over a couple of million dollars each year, and after his death, there was a lot of speculation about what would happen with the business. Naturally, the man left everything, including his business, to his wife, but the wife had never taken an active role in the business and knew nothing about how to run one.
To everyone’s surprise though, the wife decided to take over her husband’s position in running the business, and started her new role by calling a meeting. She asked three questions in that meeting, and with the answers to those three questions, within two years, she was able to turn that $2 million per year business into a $25 million per year business.
Before I tell you what the three questions she asked were, let’s consider this: the power of a question differs according to its structure. Some questions get a simple yes/no answer, some get an explanation and some get basic information which helps us fill in gaps in knowledge. Some questions though, can go well beyond that, giving us rich information, inspiring and empowering others and setting off a chain of events that can lead great places. Examples of questions I find to be really useful in working with people and helping them make changes in their lives include: “If there was one thing you would want to change, what would it be?”, “What would need to happen so that you could start making that change?”, and “If you were going to do that, what do you think the first small step towards that would be?” You can hear that those questions take people’s minds in a particular direction and get them thinking in a way they may not have been previously. This can be incredibly useful for helping them start along a journey of change, and get the kind of results they really desire.
The questions this new business director asked did the same. They inspired, directed and focused the minds of all present, so that the board members felt empowered to go out and make changes, and were all on the same page in doing so. And so what were the three questions that started this chain of events? They were as follows: “What’s working well?”, “What’s not working well?”, and “What haven’t we tried yet?” This gave guidance on what to keep doing and enhance, what to stop doing, and what to add into the mix, giving direction for the future of the business, contributing towards its success.
It’s worthwhile considering the kinds of questions you ask people in life. A question like “Why did you do that?” when your child does something wrong is not nearly as useful as “What is it you think you can learn from this?”, or “What would you like to do differently in the future if this kind of situation came up again?”, and when someone shares their dreams with you, it’s far more encouraging to ask “How can you go out there and make that happen?”, or “What do you need to do now so that that can happen in the future?”, rather than “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” or “What if it doesn’t work out?”, which is often what we ask ourselves in that kind of situation.
Going forward, I encourage you to really consider the questions you are asking people, and to consider what kinds of questions you could ask people and yourselves that will really encourage, support and lead people in a great direction.