What is the purpose of a question? Have you ever considered this? As a leader (parent, teacher, coach), this should always be an imperative for every question we ask. Actually, the purpose of the question is four-fold. And each question you ask will fit one of the following principled purposes.
Properly formulated questions asked at the right time, in the right manner can 1) gather information: This is perhaps the most used purpose for asking questions. Yet, in my opinion, it is not the best use or purpose of greatest of greatest benefit. Using questions to gather information is beneficial and helpful in moving an organization or individual forward. Before asking a question to gather information know for what purpose you need or desire the requested information. Is it vital for forward movement?
2) substantiate a person’s prior knowledge of a subject: This purpose comes in very handy as a leader or coach, and can be beneficial for teachers as well. Before you move into deeper discussion about a topic or before assigning a task to a particular individual, you want to know his prior knowledge about the subject or assignment to be completed. Without understanding the listener’s prior knowledge of the topic, you may find yourself talking way over the heads of others in the room. Or you could find yourself wanting to discuss rudimentary ideas, when your listener is far beyond this level. In either case you’re likely to find the eyes of your listener glazed over and not engaged. Learn to ask the right questions to substantiate the prior knowledge of others in the room.
3) solicit your listener’s approval: As a leader, leader, teacher, or coach, there are times when you want to ask a question that will solicit your listener’s approval. “As we make this transition, you are willing to lead your department, aren’t you?” This could be followed with a question as, ”What are your biggest apprehensions about this transition and your department?” Asking questions to solicit your listener’s approval will assist you in determining their capability.
4) promote higher level thinking which leads to true behavioral learning and life change: This in my opinion is the greatest use of the question for all leaders- in the workplace, at home, in the classroom, – every leader in every realm of life. Very seldom should we use a question that does not engage the higher order thought processes of everyone in the room. Many questions used today from casual conversations to fortune 500 board rooms require only static recall – recalling facts and figures. This type of questions cannot produce learning and will never move a person or organization forward. It is not until the higher order (deep thinking) thought processes are engaged that forward movement can be experienced.
Understanding the purpose of a question before you ask it is essential to great leadership. Learning to think through the purposes of a question may take practice, but the results as a leader will be evident!
To read more about The Purpose of a Question read chapter eight of COACHING: A Way of Leadership, A Way of Life
George Yates is a coach and Church Health Strategist assisting organizations, churches, and individuals in reaching their God-given potential.