Guest Post by Tracy König

Confessions of a Confirmed “Question Queen”

When I was a teacher, I learned an important lesson pretty fast: don’t ever ask a question of your students that you can’t answer yourself – preferably in multiple ways. After I learned this, presenting students with both simple and challenging questions proved to be a good way of drawing out new ideas from more reserved pupils and getting bright ones to think outside the box.

However, in those years I mainly learned humility since I was caught out more than once when someone asked a follow-up question that I couldn’t answer. I always wrote the question down and made sure to come back with an answer in our next meeting – either to the entire group or at least to the individual student. What a valuable exercise!

When I started working in a Christian ministry, though, asking questions became a bit more daunting. Was it appropriate for me to ask a question of an older leader? Were my questions simply evidence of my lack of faith and a resulting insecurity? Could I dare call into question existing processes and practices within the organization – after all, I was the “new kid on the block”? Were my questions a way of promoting my own agenda vs. being led by God’s Spirit?

Luckily, I had a boss who appreciated all my questions and realized that he could benefit from taking time to give good answers – or admit that he had no answer. In my first year of working with him, my questions about office processes helped streamline our work and saved us a lot of money. Simply asking why we had to send materials by courier instead of using regular mail revealed opportunities for better planning. Questions about the audience for our products helped clarify exactly who we wanted to reach and how we marketing efforts should be adjusted.

I also had the opportunity to work with the original “Question Queen”, a friend who had cultivated questions as a leadership style over the years and been given this nickname by her co-workers, who was a great role model on how to ask tough questions in a friendly and constructive way. Running a large conference with her taught me the basic questions to ask when planning an event – and helped me learn what answers and signals I should look for when choosing an event venue. Both the event organizer and the venue’s conference planner should come into the meeting with numerous questions so that both parties have a clear idea of basic requirements and possible solutions for the event.

Nevertheless, as a critical thinker who is able to see both the big picture and smaller-scale details, my questions and insights can often be threatening if the person I’m talking to has not thought through all the details of their plan.

Although I have come to appreciate the gift of questions in my own life, I am nearly always aware of the fact that asking questions means taking a risk on some level:

Sometimes I feel like I’m asking the proverbial “stupid question”.

Don’t believe anybody who says, “There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.” Even if the first part is true, as a questioner, you can be made to feel stupid when the answer comes. This may be because the person giving the answer has been caught off guard, or because your interjection was unexpected or even unwanted at that moment. Still, be encouraged – you can bet that someone else had the same question and didn’t ask.

Many times I wonder whether my questions are heard and understood.

Because I have lived abroad for nearly half my life, I am often painfully aware of the limits of human communication. Sometimes things DO get “lost in translation” – from one language to another, between men and women, across cultures, and even when both people are speaking the same language! Persevering toward mutual understanding requires stamina, but it strengthens both the working and personal relationships.

Asking questions is usually a long-term investment in a person, a team or a project.

I want to ask the right questions at the right time to keep people thinking about the essentials. This means staying engaged with a person or situation in order to sense what question needs to be asked. Cultivating this kind of focus can be learned, and I have had successes. It’s just thrilling to see the lightbulb go on in someone else’s thinking when I ask the right question. Typically the process or situation will benefit.

So, to all you budding “Question Queens and Kings”: hang in there and keep asking questions. As with most activities, asking good questions takes practice and the more often you try, the more skilled you will become. So, what question do you want to ask of which person today?

TracyKonigATracy König is American-born, but has now lived nearly half her life in Switzerland. Trained as an opera singer, she came to Europe to pursue a career in music and ended up getting married, becoming a language teacher, starting her own translation business and working with Agape Europe, the Western European branch of Campus Crusade for Christ International, in Switzerland. With Agape since 2001, she has worked as a conference organizer, key account manager, grant manager, project leader and today she leads the regional communications team. She is married to Rudy and has one cat, Max.

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One thought on “Why are we so afraid of questions?

  1. Paula Kiger says:

    Definitely an important reminder!

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