Finding the Right Solutions by Asking the Right Questions

By Todd Polke

September 16, 2014   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

“It’s not that they can’t see the solution. They can’t see the problem.” – G.K Chesterton, Writer and philosopher

We need to ask the right questions to get the right answers.

If you think you have the problem figured out and are convinced that you do, think again. Whether it’s a technical, relationship, or philosophical problem, asking better questions is a key to successful problem solving and to winning any battle.

Actress and political activist Vanessa Redgrave was quoted saying, “Ask the right questions if you’re going to find the right answers.”

Now, how does one learn to ask better questions?

Key 1: Do Not Limit.
We so often say to ourselves things like:

Why can’t I afford it?
Why can’t I ever lose weight?
Why can I never get it right?
Why am I never lucky?

These questions and statements we ask are extremely limiting. That is, when you ask a question to yourself, your mind will come up with an answer and possibly many answers, but are these the answers that you need?

It is so important that we learn to ask ourselves better questions.

For example instead of, “Why can’t I afford it?” we can ask, “How can I afford it?”

Instead of asking, “Why can’t I ever lose weight?” ask, “What do I need to be doing differently to begin losing weight?” or, “What one thing can I do today to improve my health?”

You see, if you ask, “Why can’t I afford it?” you will probably add more negative thoughts to your already discouraged attitude: “Because my salary is too low and because I have too much financial obligations.” But if you ask, “How can I afford it?” your mind will start to think of creative ways for you to be able to “afford” that investment or vacation. Never begin with a limiting question. Always believe that there is a creative way out of your problem.

Key 2: Be Humble and Objective. Do Not Judge or Assume.

The same principle is true when dealing with people. We often approach employees, colleagues, or even friends whom we have some kind of problem with, with personal assumptions about them. We judge them to be lazy, narrow minded, or selfish, and when the need to settle an issue comes, we ask the most judgmental questions that do not lead to creative solutions. For example:

Why can’t you submit on time?
Why can’t you be more creative?
Why do you always make things difficult for me?

Whatever situation we are in, we should never assume that we know everything or assume that we are perfect and correct. Be extremely careful to not assume that someone has bad intentions, or that someone cannot have something positive to offer. Instead, we should keep our minds open and try our best to be very objective. Learn to be humble. Ask and be willing to listen (or be the one to improve):

Why is your work late again? (And be sincere in wanting to know why.) What can we do to avoid late submissions?
How can we boost creativity in our workplace?
How can we improve our communication?

Wrong assumptions or unfair assumptions whether regarding ourselves or other people lead to a dead end where no problem can be solved. This is “possibility” thinking which gets us asking our minds to find a solution to a problem, instead of focus on limitations.
“Most teachers waste their time by asking questions that are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning is to discover what the pupil does know or is capable of knowing.”—Albert Einstein

Key 3: Shift to Positive Gear.

Yes, we are not in the practice of asking quality questions and have been strongly conditioned to negative thoughts and limitation thinking. So, before we begin asking questions we need to put ourselves in a positive frame of mind by again asking questions about our own lives:

What am I happy about in my life right now?
What could I be grateful for in my life?
What are some things, which I have achieved in my life previously, which prove that if I put my mind to something and take action, I know I can get it done?

Questions like these immediately shift your mind to gratitude, and in this frame of mind, possibilities open up.

Key 4: Question Like Socrates.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions that lead to more questions. Such is the cradle of ingenious ideas and discoveries. In education, there is a questioning style derived from the great philosopher Socrates: Socratic questions. These help us explore a matter deeper and wider by questioning our assumptions or by proving them.
Socratic questioning technique usually asks to:
Clarify – ‘Could you explain further?’
Challenge or prove – Why do you think this is so? Where did you base that conclusion?
Consider other possibilities or alternatives – Is there another way to look at this?
Consider consequences – How will this affect our company culture?
Question questions – Why was that question important?

By now you should have noticed that the main key to asking better questions rests in an open mind and humble heart, a person that is willing to admit that he or she does not have everything figured out. Better questions begin with a willingness to consider alternate routes that one has not been considered before, or one has believed yet to be possible. Also, sometimes the solution is right in front of our eyes, but we just are not ready to believe that it is possible. One question we can ask ourselves in the midst of doubt is, “What have I got to lose if I give up my cowardice and timidity?” And the answer is, nothing really, but you have everything to gain.

Key 5: Never Give Up.

Last but not least, do not quit asking questions until you find yourself with a clearer mind and a better grasp of your situation. If Albert Einstein admitted that, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutesa thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions,” it’s okay for the rest of us to do the same. It is a humbling process. Persevere and soon you’ll see a ray of light. Just remember to never impose limitations on yourself, to always question your assumptions, and to be willing to look at things from a different perspective. And always, always ask yourself the question, “Am I asking the right questions?”

“What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” – Jonas Salk

Todd Polke

As a Property Investment Coach, personal mentor and professional speaker I help every day people take their personal, professional and financial lives to the next level.

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