How Do You Ask A Good Question, So You’ll Get A Good Answer?

Why, how, what, when, who, and where?

From the moment we’re old enough to talk, we’re asking questions.

Inquisitive by nature, humans simply want to know…

“Where did it come out from?”

That’s what I wanted to know from my mother right after she gave birth to my younger sister. As a four-year-old, I just couldn’t figure out where the little thing had come from!

But don’t think for a moment it’s only children that ask; adults ask questions too.

No matter how old we are, we ask questions, because that’s how we learn.

We learn by thinking and interacting with the world around us. Learning is a life-long process, facilitated and accomplished mostly through asking questions.

We ask questions of ourselves, and we ask them of the people around us. Questions help us relate to others and the world around us.

Many Reasons To Ask Questions

We ask questions for a variety of reasons:

  • to get facts and information
  • to learn and understand
  • to find explanations
  • to get feedback
  • to communicate with one another
  • to understand others

Most often, the answers we get are adequate; freeing us up to move on to the next thought.

Sometimes, however, they’re less than adequate, or there won’t be an answer at all, leaving us hungry for more information.

Whenever this happens to me, I feel annoyed and ignored. Often I think to myself, ‘Why can’t you just answer my simple question?”

Ask Yourself

But then I ask myself… “Did I get this answer because of what I asked? Was my question clear enough or could I have asked a better question?”

Because ultimately, the quality of the answer you receive depends on the quality of the question you ask. In other words, you must ask a good question, if you want a good answer.

Sounds simple, right?

Unfortunately, all too often we don’t take the time to craft a good question… and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if we don’t get a satisfactory answer.

Today it’s just all too easy to fire off an email or leave a quick voicemail, without thinking much about the question.

What Is A Good Question?

So what qualifies as a good question, one that is sure to get a good answer? And how do you ask a good question?

You make sure your question contains a few basic elements or building blocks.

I’ll discuss two of them here because I think they are the most important ones. 

# 1 What Is The Goal Of Your Question?

Get clear on why it is you’re asking the question in the first place. What do you want to accomplish?

  • Are you simply gathering information?
  • Are you trying to understand something or someone at a deeper level?
  • Are you trying to influence?
    • For example, let’s imagine you want to persuade a diabetic patient to eat healthier foods. One way you could do this is by simply telling her to stop eating ice cream or drinking soda altogether.
    • Or, you could pose a question. You could ask her what she thinks would be better for her “choosing a healthy snack over eating ice cream? This would allow your patient to come to her own conclusion and perhaps result in higher compliance.Often, it’s more effective to teach and coach by asking questions rather than by giving direct instructions.
  • Are you trying to build a relationship?
    • When you ask questions and take the time to listen to the answer the other person becomes engaged in the process. This helps build a relationship and increases mutual respect and trust.

# 2 How Are You Asking Your Question?

  • Does your question reflect clarity of purpose?
  • Is your question well thought through?
  • Is your question clearly phrased and expressed?
  • Does your question include all the elements you want to have answered?
    • For example, occasionally we get questions at NPBO that are too broad and too vague. Someone may be asking if they can start a practice in their state without ever mentioning the respective state.
    • Or, someone may be asking how much they should pay for collaboration, without including where they’re located, what type of practice they want to start, etc.
  • Are you asking your question in an open-ended or a closed-ended format?
    • Effective questions tend to be open-ended. They allow the other person room for personal expression and creativity; closed-ended questions leave little room for exploring options and alternatives.

Asking Questions Helps Us

Asking good questions helps us focus on what’s important. So, no matter if you:

  • have a problem you need to solve
  • want to learn something new
  • want to get to know someone better
  • want to teach something to somebody

Start by asking well thought out questions.

Even though our thinking is affected by the quality of the questions we ask of ourselves and others, ultimately, the quality of our lives is determined by how we act on the insights gained from our questions.

We’d love to know what you think… leave a comment and let us know.


By Johanna Hofmann, MBA; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog.


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