“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” — Thomas Berger
One of the best leadership tools I ever learned is the Precision Q+A framework.
You might hear it referred to as Precision Questions and Answers, or Precision Questioning and Precision Answering, etc.
Ultimately, Precision Q+A is a thinking framework to ask better questions, and answer questions better.
When I first learned the Precision Q+A framework, I felt like I was given one of the most profound tools on the planet to grow my executive leadership skills.
In fact, looking back, I would say that the Precision Q+A framework is by far one of the most powerful thinking and decision frameworks ever created.
Hat tip to Dennis Matthies of Vervago for creating the framework, and Monica Worline of Vervago for sharing and scaling the framework more broadly in the business world.
Bill Gates Wanted Everybody Trained in Precision Q+A
I remember hearing long ago that Bill Gates was frustrated because staff didn’t answer his questions very well in meetings.
Often, they didn’t answer the question that was asked.
Or they gave long-winded answers.
Or they shared a lot information that wasn’t relevant to the question.
And, as a leader who needs to make important decisions, it can be difficult to cut through the fluff or the noise or even evasive behaviors.
So Bill Gates required staff to get trained in the Precision Questions + Answers framework.
The Origin of the Precision Questions + Answers Framework
If I got this right, Dennis Matthies, Vervago co-founder, created the Precision Q+A framework at Stanford over 25 years of teaching at Standford.
He created the Precision Q+A framework for for deeper thinking and accelerated learning.
As master coach at Vervago, Dennis coaches executives to present their best thinking during C-Suite and Board of Directors meetings, and as they lead their teams.
Why Practice the Precision Q+A Framework?
Unless you’re a lawyer, chances are you have not been trained how to ask and answer questions with skill.
Meanwhile, you are constantly trying to make decisions with limited information and wading through information to figure out what you need to know.
When you practice the Precision Q+A framework, you learn how to:
- solve complex problems
- conduct deep analysis
- make difficult decisions
The big idea with Precision Q+A is to learn how to use precise questions and answers to learn what you know, don’t know and need to know next.
You also learn how to learn more completely and to understand the full dimensions of a position, a decision, and supporting information.
Imagine If You Could Ask and Answer Questions Better
Learning Precision Q+A could be a career growing move. Not learning Precision Q+A, could be a career-ending move.
I like how Ken Wells, Director of AGS Performance Improvement at Applied Materials, framed the idea in his article, Reflecting on Seven Years of “Precision Questioning and Answering”:
“Imagine being asked by an executive to stop talking, leave the meeting, and don’t return until you learn how to answer a question.
For some people this could be a devastating, career-stalling experience.
For others who gain precision answering skills, this could be a launching pad to exponential career growth.
The confidence gained when you can concisely and accurately answer questions (while not oversimplifying), convert stressful executive interrogations into collaborative conversations.”
The Illusion of Knowledge
The Precision Q+A framework can help us counteract the Illusion of Knowledge by helping us better understand what we know and what we don’t.
The Illusion of Knowledge comes down to this:
“I am under the impression that I know and understand more than what I really know and understand.”
The Illusion of Knowledge is a bias in our thinking, and it can represent a significant obstacle to our learning process by impeding reflection on our own knowledge and preventing us from distinguishing what is known from what is not.
Shortcogs.com defines the Illusion of Knowledge like this:
“The feeling of knowing or understanding something and the actual knowledge of that thing are not always related to each other.
It is common, in practical and concrete everyday situations, as in more conceptual abstractions, to find that there is a more or less important gap between our real knowledge, and the perception that we have of it.
The illusion of knowledge is a cognitive bias involving a person feeling as though they know more or understand better than what their actual knowledge allows them to assert.
In itself, the illusion of knowledge would therefore represent an erroneous metacognitive judgment, that is to say a bad judgment about one’s own thoughts.”
Learn the 7 Categories of Questions
To practice Precision Q+A, you need to learn the 7 types of questions for focused drilling down:
- Go / No Go. Do we need to talk about this?
- Clarification. What do you mean?
- Assumptions. What are we assuming?
- Basic Critical Question. How do we know this is true?
- Causes. What’s causing this?
- Effects. What will be the effects?
- Action. What should be done?
Learn Drill-Down Precision Questions + Answers
In the beginning, I found it easy to remember the 7 categories, but I had a challenge sometimes figuring out which question to ask next within a category.
I found it extremely helpful to keep a cheat sheet of example questions and answers with me as prompts and reminders:
|The Go / No Go Question||Why are we talking about this now?
QUESTIONING THE QUESTIONS
|Questions that Clarify Meaning||What do we mean?
|Questions About Assumptions||What are we assuming?
POLITICAL, HUMAN STEREOTYPES
|The Basic Critical Question||How do we know this is true?
|Questions about Causality||Why? What caused this?
TRIGGER vs. CONDITIONS
ROOT vs. CONTRIBUTING
WHEN CAUSALITY IS ORGANIC AND NOT LINEAR
|Questions About Effects||What will be the effects?
PRIMARY vs. SECONDARY
|Questions About Action||What could / should be done?
ROOT CAUSE FIX vs. CONTAINMENT
STRATEGY vs TACTICS
Practice Precision Q+A in Recurring Scenarios
I found that it’s incredibly helpful to practice Precision Questions + Answers during 3 common scenarios:
- Making a decision
When you get a lot of emails it can be really helpful to use precision to quickly understand what the point is or what the action is or what the decision is.
Similarly, when it comes to meetings, they are a good practice ground to ask better questions and answer questions better.
Chances are you make a lot of decisions throughout your day. Choose a complex decision or one of your more important decisions to figure out what you know or don’t know, or why you support a particular choice or action.
Practice Balancing Rapport with Results
One recurring criticism of Precision Q+A is that in the hands of some people, it ends up as an abusive tool.
Instead of a collaborative question and answer session to learn and explore a position and a decision, some people use it for interrogation.
Don’t be one of them.
Balance connection and building rapport, along with your desire to learn and explore a position and decision.
Learn Precision Q + A from Vervago
You can find more information on Precision Q+A at Vervago.
If you can take Precision Q+A training, and learn it from a great coach, it will be one of your best investments.
Precision Q+A is among the best leadership tools for making better decisions.
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