In my teens I learnt the art of answering a question without answering it. And I have my father to thank for that. After school/college hours I would often stay out late meandering with friends and come home to a fuming father. He would invariably be found pacing up and down the balcony like a tiger pretty much in disagreement with its cage, about to express its opinion in no uncertain terms. My entry into the house would typically invite his opening salvo of a deep “hmmm” followed by the statement “ you are late” . To which I would answer “yeah I got late” and with a deftness of a Maradona on grease, dodge quickly into the bathroom before he could recover and get into his middle game of the more dangerous questions. A life time spent evading the answer to nasty questions has given me a deep appreciation of the rapier-like quality of questions.
But there is also a singular beauty to questions.
I had this colleague, more of a mentor and coach, whose ability to uncover the fundamentals of any situation was scintillating. I remember one instance when I had slaved day and night to build what I thought was a clever model and Goto market strategies for my business. I had thought through all possibilities and covered, in my calculation, every possible angle the Board might take. I turned to him for review, fairly confident that he would give it a green signal. After listening to me patiently, he asked ‘Everything you have stated in your model I can do in-house as your client, provided I have the capital. Just assume people have the access to capital. ? And why would I be compelled to buy from you?’ It was such a fundamental question. In my excitement about the details of the solution and the way I was able to synchronize all the moving parts I had got carried away with the elegance of the solution. His ability to ask the right question jolted me back to reality and back to the drawing board. That is the power of good questions- they change perspective.
I have over the years, apart from working sedulously at collecting grey hair, also worked at honing my ability to ask the right questions. Once, my colleagues at Vyaktitva and I worked on a project that required us to teach facilitators and coaches how to ask questions that would help them generate insights/realizations in their audience.
In that project we had to get the audience of facilitators and future coaches to experience the power of the right question; A case in point was to create the realization, for instance, that Differentiation based on performance is a universal underlying truth not a perverse corporate ploy to deprive people of their due. We did this by using four kinds of questions:
- Factual: Gets Facts/feelings etc. around the situation on the table including what has not been explicitly stated
- g. Establish the basis for Differentiation as a way of life
- Example :All of you have appeared for exams in every grade. Did all of you in the class get the same marks?
- Exploring: Pushes the person to examine options/alternatives; compare/contrast
- g. Explore the possibility of application of Differentiation in other walks of life
- Example: Have you faced situations in life where you were required to differentiate?
- Establishing: Gets the person to arrive at and begin to accept the logic of the solution
- g. Converge to /Arrive at the universal nature of Differentiation
- Example: How do you declare a winner amongst contestants in an Olympic freestyle swimming competition?
- Implication: Gets the person to see the absurdity or non-starting nature of other alternatives or through pros and cons, strengthen the conclusion
- g. Reinforce or strengthen the universal nature of Differentiation
- Example: What would happen if you declared both contestants of a near photo finish as winners?
Over time and years of application I have found these four kinds of questions to be a powerful method to uncover basic truths and to get a person to reflect and arrive at key realizations that change perspectives and, at times ,attitudes
In all the work I do with people, if there is one underlying thread, it is Questions. Good questions are like a lever that help do the heavy lifting of discovering the truth and gaining insights. Given the fact that I am a life member of the lazy sods association, I love my questions. Let the other fellow do all the heavy lifting of finding the answers.
But jokes apart, good questions teach, and I have often found these Four categories of questions Factual, Exploring, Establishing and Implication extremely useful in both facilitation as well as in my Coaching work. Used well I have found that they hold my hand and lead me to insights and give the answers I seek for the many conundrums of life.
It is all about the questions, not so much about the answers.