Ask Better Questions, Get Better Results (Day 20 of 30 Days of Getting Results)

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“There are no right answers to wrong questions.”–Ursula K. Le Guin

Your Outcome:  Learn how to ask “cutting” questions to instantly start helping you improve your results.  By asking key questions, you can cut through the fog or cut to the chase and figure out what really counts.

Welcome to day 20 of 30 Days of Getting Results, based on my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.  In day 19, we learned to ask the question, “Who are you doing it for?” to help us get clarity on why we are doing what we’re doing and whether it is really valued and who actually values it.  This also helps us map the value better, whether it’s for ourselves or for somebody else.  Today, we build on this approach of asking questions, to improve our results.

Asking cutting questions helps you improve your ability to work on the right things, with the right energy, at the right time, the right way … for YOUR BEST RESULTS.

Asking better questions is an ongoing process.  The one who gains the most is you.  Your ability to improve the questions you ask yourself will improve the quality of your life in all areas.

Why Ask Questions
Asking the right questions can help you balance, focus, make better decisions, and prioritize more effectively.    Let’s elaborate on that:

  • Asking the right questions leads us to better answers.  If we think of thinking as a process of asking and answering questions, then to get better answers, we have to ask better questions.  Think about that.  Whether it’s your own self-talk or in a meeting, how powerful is it to ask the right question?
  • Asking questions changes your focus.  You can change your focus by changing your question, and this allows you to quickly switch perspectives or get a new lens on things.  For example, by asking yourself “What’s right in your life?” you get a very different result than asking, “What’s wrong with your life?”  Some people never ask themselves what’s right in their life, and they lose appreciation for what they’ve got, and they blow the bad things out of proportion.
  • Direct your self-talk more effectively.    Change your questions and you change your game.  Rather than “tell” yourself to do things, you can ask more effective questions to get more resourceful.  For example, “How might I solve this” or “What’s a good approach?” or “Who else shares this problem that I can learn from?”  You can also get unstuck by switching gears from “Why” to “How” questions.  For example, rather than ask, “Why does this always happen to me?”, ask yourself either, “What are you going to do about it?” or “How will you avoid this in the future?”
  • Asking questions creates opportunity.   If you want more conflict in your life, simply make more statements.  Statements create conflict.  Somebody can always argue with a statement.  You can even argue with yourself.  Switching to questions, opens up exploration.
  • Questions create “ah-has.” When you ask questions, you can actually create emotional connections as you have your insight and “ah-ha” moments.  These emotional links are more powerful than just raw information.

As you can see, there are lots of reasons why improving your questions can improve your everyday experience in a very practical way.

Quotes About Questions
Here are some of my favorite quotes about the value of asking good questions:

  1. “A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.”—Unknown
  2. A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” – Francis Bacon
  3. “An answer is always a form of death.”—John Fowles
  4. “It is not every question that deserves an answer.” — Publilius Syrus
  5. “No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.” — Karl Otto von Schonhausen Bismarck
  6. “Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” — Anthony Robbins
  7. “Questions are never indiscreet. Answers sometimes are.” – Publilius Syrus
  8. “The man who questions opinion is wise; the man who quarrels with fact is a fool.”–Frank A Garbutt
  9. “The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself.” –Ursula K. LeGuin
  10. “The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” —Antony Jay
  11. “We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.”—Lloyd Alexander
  12. “When we have arrived at the question, the answer is already near.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson
  13. “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions”.—Naguib Mahfouz

Questions for Improving Your Results
Here is a table of questions you can draw from to help you improve your results:

Category Questions
General
  • Are the right people working on the right things?
  • What’s the right thing to do?
  • What’s the best play for this scenario?
  • Does your container limit or support you?
Action
  • What’s the next best thing to do?
  • Next steps?
  • What are the actions?
  • What’s the simplest thing you can do now?
  • Is your current action moving your forwards or backwards?
Efficiency and Effectiveness
  • What are you optimizing?
  • Is it effective?
  • Are you going faster AND in the right direction?
Goals and Objectives
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What are the tests for success?
  • Are these really your goals or someone else’s?
Learning
  • Who can you learn from?
  • What are 3 examples to model from?
  • What are 3 things going well?
  • What are 3 things to improve?
Motivation
  • Do you want to do it?
  • Do you like to do it?
  • How can you enjoy the process?
  • What thoughts are getting in the way of your motivation?
  • Can you make a different choice that is more motivating?
Time Management
  • How much time did you spend on it?
  • How much time should you spend on it?
  • Is now the right time?
  • What’s good enough for now?
  • Are you spending $20 on a $5 problem?
  • How can you manage your energy to use your time more effectively?
Value
  • Does it matter?
  • Is it significant?
  • Who feels it has value? You? Others?
  • If others value it, does it conflict or align with what you value?

Use the table as a starting point, but the key is to find the questions that work for you and continue to add to your “question toolbox” over time.  You’ll find that some questions will really empower you from getting unstuck, to finding solutions, to getting inspired, to figuring out your next best thing to do.

Today’s Assignment

  1. Identify one question you can ask yourself that can help you get better results.
  2. Identify one question you need to stop asking yourself, so you can get better results.  Find a more effective question you can replace the ineffective question with.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Great one. Asking better questions turns out to be the one of the core skills in getting results, indeed. For working with customers, for family, for yourself. I found time and again “What are you optimizing?” is the most fundamental one. It helps me to get back on track whenever i feel i am losing it…

  2. @ Alik — “What are you optimizing for?” really does cut to the chase. That one seems to be sticky for a lot of people because it reminds them that while there are a lot of ways to solve a problem, it usually involves balancing and making trade-offs.

  3. Hi JD .. you make a good point – we don’t ask ourselves what’s right in our lives .. and if we do –we certainly don’t answer it very often. If we did – we might find our strengths and be able to build on them and thus give us a better foundation. Questions with a smile .. and another perspective can take the sting out of the tail ..

    I love your list of questions .. so true & need to be read & pondered upon …

    I’m absolutely certain that if I start asking questions of myself .. my life will improve in many ways – work wise, relationship wise, communication wise .. I’ll be back to follow your 30 days once I’m settled in a place of my own later this week .. September seems a good time.

    Once a great post – thanks JD .. Hilary

  4. […] For example, by asking yourself “What’s right in your life” you get a very different result than asking, “What’s wrong with your life?”  Some people never ask themselves what’s right in their life, and they lose appreciation for what they’ve got, and they blow the bad things out of proportion.   Here are additional topics based on asking better questions if your interested.  […]

  5. J.D.,
    I was really impressed to see Lloyd Alexander’s quote. His books are responsible for turning me into a reader at age 11.

    One of my old questions has been “How much did I get done today?” That never satisfies me. It’s also an assessment question, more judging than learning focused. A better question has been, “What did I choose to work on today? Were those the best places to invest my energy.”

    These 30 days have been making a huge difference, and this particular post may be the most significant for me. Thanks.

  6. @ Hilary — Thank you.

    You are right because changing your questions, changes your focus. And, changing your focus, changes your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions. So changing your questions, changes your results.

    @ Aaron — I like your shift from judging to learning. It’s a recipe for success.

    Whenever we ask “How” questions, we help drive either learning or resourcefulness towards our goal. For example, “How can I invest my energy better?”

    It sounds like you are on a roll. Momentum is a powerful thing.

  7. The question that speaks to me the most is “Can you make a difference choice that is more motivating?”

    While I have been making a series of changes to create a momentum for my next new things, the type of questions I ask myself still comes from my usual familiar autopilot mode. Well, I realized that my latest motivation would help me to ask different questions. I need to grow this new spark into a conflagration before I can see where it will take me. A necessary step before ‘A-ha’ moment…

    I bought “Just Enough” when it just came out years ago…10 years ago?! I meant to read it, but it got pushed back by other books deep into my library. I got it on the work desk now. I will see if I can find much needed sparks of inspiration from there.

    • In retrospect, it’s important to use *HOW* and *WHAT* questions as enablers.

      For example, “How can you find something more motivating?” or “What would light your fire?” or “What do you want to spend more time doing?”

      If you’re falling into a rut or running on too much auto-pilot, a great way to break out of it is to ask, “What would be the opposite of what I’d normally do?” … and then do that.

      Doing the opposite is our friend in so many ways, especially if what we’re currently doing isn’t working for us, but we don’t know how to change it.

      For example, periodically, I do really short posts, and really long posts. I try to do the opposite of whatever I normally do, and the opposite of what everybody else does on the Web.

      It’s how I learn the most, and I’m a fan of seeking out unfamiliar territory.

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