Asking Good Questions

Mar 26, 2021

 Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else has ever thought. – Einstein 

I like to ask questions. No matter if I’m going through a difficult season, have an idea that I want to bounce off of someone, or trying to grow the Science Venture Studio with my team – the one thing that is constant for me and keeps pushing me forward is asking good questions to the right people and listening to their response. 

First and foremost, anyone that says that asking questions is a “cake walk” in my opinion is either not telling the full truth, hasn’t gotten this far along in their journey yet, or isn’t truly putting in the necessary work. This stage is vital in growing, and it is damn hard work. It requires a deep level of reflection, honesty, time, vulnerability, seeking, listening, learning, processing and more reflection. 

Before I begin asking questions to other people, I start by asking questions to myself. Questions that require a deep level of intrinsic self-reflection of my heart. I may wrestle with these questions alone or ask a trusted friend or colleague to help me, but regardless they require me to pause and reflect. The purpose of this self-reflection is to keep my head above water and to save myself from diving straight into the black hole of the cognitive demands that are required of me when I start reaching out to others. It is also a way for me to refrain from “thinking the shit out of something”, as I tend to find myself in often. (Don’t laugh, you’ve been there too, and you know how exhausting it can be.) Some questions within my self-reflection may include: Why do I want to hear from others? Why is this important to me? Who am I doing this for? How am I feeling? From my experience, this self-reflection is ongoing and is something that I fall back on time and time again. 

After this period of self-reflection, I begin to think about who I want to hear from that could have a great deal of understanding in what I want to know more about. When I start talking to people, I also have to remind myself about the human element of this stage. As Brene Brown states in Dare to Lead, “people, people, people, are just people, people, people.” I can easily get caught up in trying to say the right things or ensuring that the questions that I have prepared ahead of time are answered, so much so that I can forget that I am talking to real people that have real experiences, real insight, and real lives.

The purpose of the meeting is to learn about someone’s experience. My responsibility is to ask open-ended questions so that the person can talk to me about their experience, and I hold myself accountable to hear, listen, and learn as the person speaks. I have found that generally people are willing it to talk if I show interest in them, and my questions are always focused on learning about the subject from each person’s experience. If we are honest, I think we all enjoy talking about our experiences to a degree.

As humans, I believe we are hardwired to do this so that we can build connections. If done well, the beauty of this type of communication could be the foundation that builds on trust and eventually community. When I am talking to people, it may be the first time that our paths have crossed, and it gives me an opportunity to meet them. Ultimately, I want to build a relationship with the person so that I can begin to build my support network. I typically refrain from telling the person everything about my problem, product, or idea within the initial meeting. I don’t do this to purposely withhold information, I simply want to hear and learn more about them because their experience will be the building blocks for my ideas to grow. 

Regardless of how you go about asking good questions, it is important to do the prep work, take the risks, start talking and learning from people. Just keep in mind… People are people.