In my younger days, I was often asked: “What’s your question?” On more occasions than I can remember, I had difficulty coming up with questions that I felt were good. It did not help that I was not fond of asking questions either. I recall being lost in the U.S. many years ago and would rather fumble over maps (GPS was not commonly available then) than ask for directions at a nearby gas station. I am sure many of us have been caught in a similar situation before.
However, all that changed after I started to embark on my facilitation, organisational development and learning journey more than 25 years ago. Through the journey, I discovered that asking questions is one of the most important, if not the most important, interventions for learning. Whether we are business leaders, coaches, facilitators, meeting chairpersons, managers or even customers, we need to ask questions to help us learn better and inspire more possibilities.
In my professional learning journey, I have had the privilege of learning from many mentors from around the world. One of them is Dr. Michael Marquardt, Professor of Human Resource Development and International Affairs and Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the World Institute for Action Learning (WIAL). Dr. Marquardt is also the author of many leadership books, including the best-selling book, Leading With Questions. He has been instrumental to my growth as a Master Action Learning Coach (MALC). Through Dr. Marquardt and the WIAL Action Learning process, I have learnt to ask better questions in my professional and personal life. A piece of advice from Dr. Marquardt that has served me particularly well is:
Often, we would also find that our questions are determined by the mindset we adopt. I am indebted to Dr. Marilee Adams for teaching me the Inquiry Mindset. She is the president and founder of Inquiry Institute, a consulting, coaching, and educational organisation, and the originator of the QUESTION THINKING™ methodologies. Her book, Change Your Question, Change Your Life inspired me to travel to Princeton in 2011 to become certified in her Question Thinking Advantage workshop. Her Learner/Judger Mindset has since shaped xxv Preface me to ask questions from the learner’s mindset, guided by the principle that changing our questions brings about changes to our results.
My best “question” teacher is actually my son, Titus. Over the years, he has asked me many questions born out of curiosity—questions that I did not have answers to. “Why is rough paper called rough paper?”, “Why are bubbles round?”, “Why is the police uniform blue?”, “Does man become shorter in space?” and so forth. His burning curiosity serves as my impetus to learn more about questions and develop myself in this area.
In my interaction with other facilitators and coaches, I am frequently asked “How to ask questions?” and “What questions to ask?” Many have shared with me that questions seem to come to me rather naturally. These feedback got me thinking that perhaps I can support more individuals and teams by coming up with a book of questions that will trigger new insights.
This book is a compilation of 630 questions that can be asked when focussing on different competencies or when in different situations. They serve as trigger questions to aid you in your quest to inspire more possibilities in whatever you do.
Questions can be used to develop competencies in a particular area. For example, if you would like to focus on being forward looking, you can select questions under “Visioning” to develop yourself in that competency.
Questions are also powerful when you find yourself in situations that require you to ask different questions for the betterment of self, others, team, and organisation. For example, if your team is trying to solve a problem but is stuck, you can pick and ask a question under “Getting Unstuck” to help the team move forward.
All the questions in this book are not meant to be the right questions to ask in each context. They are only meant to help you kick start the questioning process. The questions need not be asked in the same sequence as they are listed too. Feel free to pick and choose any question that you feel will be useful at a particular point of time. More often than not, you will need to ask more follow-up questions after asking the one listed in the book.
This book also gives you the opportunity to expand your learning by being creative in the way you ask your questions. Feel free to rephrase the questions to suit different contexts. For example, “How can you do better?” can be rephrased to “How can I do better?” if you wish to ask a self-reflective question. Or if you are working with a team, the question can be rephrased to “How can we do better as a team?”
The list of questions in each category is definitely not exhaustive and that is the reason why we have added blank lines for you to pen down your own questions. It is my fervent hope that in time to come, your list of questions will grow and so will your ability to ask good questions.
So have a go at experimenting with the questions to enrich your learning and discovery processes, and let us inspire more possibilities through the power of questions!
4. Appreciative Inquiry: #1 Can you describe a time when you were most proud of yourself? What happened? Who was involved? Why was it a proud moment?
11. Courage: #3 What is the worst thing that could happen?
12. Creativity: #2 What happens if we do the exact opposite?
13. Critical Thinking: #3 What is the real problem we are trying to solve?
14. Customer Focus: #1 What do our customers need?
25. Listening: #3 What is the story behind what the person is saying?
28. Open to Change: #6 What will make the change easier to accept?
40. Strategic Thinking: #2 Where do we see ourselves five years from now?
42. Systems Thinking: #4 Is there only one solution to a problem?
43. Teamwork: #3 How do you leverage on the strengths of every team member?
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