How to Master the Art of Asking Questions

Dan Sullivan has a quote that says, “The question is the one form of thought that always actively leads us out of the past and into a bigger future.” 

Even so, many of us still shy away from asking questions, despite the inherent value in them. Why is that? 

Experts suggest three explanations: 

  1. Some people are egocentric, and therefore, are more interested in sharing their own points of view rather than learning from the experience of others.
  2. Some people are overconfident, and therefore, assume they already have all the answers.
  3. Finally, some people are self-conscious, and therefore, are worried that they’ll ask the wrong question and be perceived as incompetent.

However, the opposite is true — the most successful people in the world are constantly asking questions. If not a natural question-asker, here’s how to get started.

Be specific

If you don’t know what you’re trying to learn, then it’s unlikely any other person will either. A good question can be divided into three different types: Factual, opinion or request.

  1. Factual relates to asking someone else a question to gain insight on something you don’t know.  
  2. Opinion relates to asking someone for their viewpoint on a matter that you want clarified.  
  3. Request relates to asking a question of someone to do something and implies that you’re looking for help on something.

So, once you’ve gotten to the heart of what question you’re really trying to ask, consider who you’re asking, and whether they’re in the right position to answer it or not.

Don’t be afraid to clarify

Mexican author, Don Miguel Ruiz says, “Whenever we make assumptions, we’re asking for problems.” 

Clarifying is the important step to actually get a proper answer. If you truly want to understand and take the appropriate action, you’ll need to clarify.

When asking for clarification, make it clear you’re simply trying to understand rather than trying to blame them for giving a poor answer. After all, you’re both working toward the same goal, which is to understand each other.

Keep quiet

It’s generally not a good idea to interrupt someone when they’re talking to you. However, this becomes even more true when they’re trying to answer a question that you’ve asked them.

Before speaking again, wait to hear all that the answerer has said and then speak your part. If you interrupt too soon, you may miss the most important thing the person was going to say.