Guest Post by Johannes Bayer

How many questions did you ask today?  

5, 10, 20, 50…?

My dream job: Being paid to know which questions to ask.

Dilemma 1:   Managers are paid to know all the answers and make business predictable.

Asking lots of questions is not what corporations pay managers for and is often seen as a sign of weakness, insecurity and incompetence (or we are embarrassed to ask basic questions).

Asking questions adds value:

  • separating facts from fiction – “how do you know that? What specific examples do you have?”
  • focus on value adding activities – “what are we gaining by doing this? What happens if we don’t do this?”
  • building trust – “how can I help you to make your job easier?”
  • developing people – “what do you think? How would you do this?”
  • turning around projects – “what do we need to start / stop / continue doing?

Dilemma 2: Asking questions is a big skills gap but it is neither on the radar of HR nor your boss.

If you can fill it you can add tremendous value to the organization.

So, where can you learn to ask value adding questions?

Schools don’t teach it, universities don’t teach it, hindsight may teach us what the right question would have been but often enough we don’t take the time to reflect and do a honest self-assessment. Try finding a business course on “asking questions”, impossible! You might watch “Dragon’s Den” or get on a police “interrogation techniques” course or work in a job with kids (hang on, actually having kids is enough…).

Did you know that the average 4 year old asks 472 questions a day? OK, closer to 300 a day as researchers found in this study. That is still 25 questions an hour in a 12 hour day!

Why is it that kids don’t stop asking? Because they want to learn! Constantly! From everyone! Every parent knows it is tough being asked so many questions without losing patience. Often our standard answer is “Stop asking stupid questions! Be quiet!”. By doing that we suppress a natural curiosity and kids ask fewer and fewer questions over time…the result:

Dilemma 3: as an adult we stopped asking – we forgot to be curious and to learn constantly. 

So, what’s the problem with that? The problem is: “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset thatcreated them” – Albert Einstein

You cannot create anything new, tackle challenges or solve problems if you don’t know how to ask questions, which you need to do to overcome dilemma 3.

Of course, there is a vast number of resources you can use to learn more about asking questions. I started building up a collection of questions that really worked well for me. In my next posts I will start sharing them. Hopefully, you will find them useful, too.

My experiment for the next week:

Keep a count of how many questions I ask each day.

My personal development goal: increase my questions per day ratio.

Johannes Bayer HeadshotJohannes Bayer helps people to make sense of the complex. He leads operational and strategic projects in the Global Supply Chain department of a large international matrix organization. With a PhD in sensemaking his passion lies in helping people to figure out problems, to learn and to understand. Johannes blogs about asking questions, mentoring and performance. Please reach out and connect to him via his blog, LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

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One thought on “Asking simple questions to unlock bottom line value

  1. Well stated article. Too often individual’s present solutions without asking questions to fully understand the process that led up to the current situation or fully understand the underlying problem(s). I have found that asking simple questions, mostly ones that begin with “why,” help all parties extract the real root issue. The “five whys” technique has helped me and others find common ground and build out sustainable solutions, while it helps us explain the reason behind change.

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