Asking Great Questions

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"The important thing is not to stop questioning." Albert Einstein.

Consider how God ask questions with a difficult discipleship situation in Genesis 3:8-13.

In Jewish culture, asking the right question is considered as an art. That's why, when being asked, the rabbis often answered by asking back. Jesus did this himself as well. Mark 10:18 Luke18:19

Questions by their very nature allow individuals and teams to be more receptive to adapting, changing, and growing.

What is the most important skill of a leader? Many cite the ability to ask the right questions. However, "right" is very context-depending here: at a given time, in a given culture, to a given person/audience, with a given goal.

Great Questions

  • Cause us to focus and/or stretch.
  • Create deep reflection.
  • Challenge taken for granted assumptions that prevent us from acting in new and forceful ways.
  • Are difficult to answer and may take courage to ask.
  • Lead to breakthrough thinking.
  • Contain the keys that open the door to great solutions.
  • Are fresh questions raised in "conditions of ignorance, risk, confusion, or when nobody knows what to do next"[1]
  • Are supportive, insightful, and challenging.
  • Are un-presumptious and offered in a sharing spirit.
  • Are selfless, not asked to illustrate the cleverness of the questioner or to generate information or an interesting response for the questioner.
  • Open up the problem owner's view of the situation.
  • Open doors in the mind and get people to think more deeply.
  • Test assumptions and cause people to explore why and how they act.
  • Generate action.
  • Great questions are asked at the time when they will generate the most reflection and learning?

Adapted from Optimizing the Power of Action Learning, Michael J Marquardt, ISBN 0891061916, By John Peachey.

Discipling Through Asking Questions

Open Questions

These give a high degree of freedom in how to respond.

  • What kind of things do you enjoy doing?
  • What comes easily to you?
  • What dreams or desire do you have?
  • What do you want? Mark 10:51
  • What things satisfy or re-energize you?
  • What excites you?
  • What kind of expectations do you have about your life?
  • What would you like to do when you finish DTS?
  • What are your abilities?
  • What kind of training would you like to receive?
  • Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
  • What would you say are some of your key strengths?
  • Tell me something about yourself that made you feel great?
  • What would you like to do if there were no hindrances?
  • What is your heart beating for?

Affective Questions

Invite people to share feelings about an issue.

  • How did you feel about your presentation?
  • If you had to choose a colour to describe your feelings about your team, what colour would that be and why?
  • What was your initial reaction?
  • What was your gut reaction?
  • What emotion did it stir inside you?
  • What word would best describe that emotion?

Reflective Questions

Encourage more elaboration.

  • You said she annoys you, what do you think leads to that response?
  • You said you were stressed, what do you find difficult to do when you are under stress?
  • Can you help me understand what is going on in you?
  • What did you mean when you said that?
  • What do you think were the three key points of the lecture and why?
  • What do you think was the cause of that reaction?
  • How can you explain the change in the atmosphere of the group?
  • Does the situation remind you?
  • What exactly happened?
  • What is it in you that makes you feel that way about that person?

Probing Questions

Cause the person to go into more depth or breadth.

  • Why is this happening?
  • What did the situation trigger in you?

Fresh Questions

Challenge basic assumptions.

(These questions mostly have a yes/no answer. They need to be rewritten.)

  • Must it be that way?
  • Has this ever been tried?
  • What is a YWAM base, anyway?
  • Does the Holy Spirit need us in order to show himself?
  • Can somebody be a Christian without knowing it?
  • "Jesus had the power and charisma to build a financially prosperous and spiritually exciting ministry and to let His followers share in the fun. Why wouldn't He do it?" [2]

Questions That Create Connections

Systems perspective. Even if the answers to these questions are often very subjective, they can help to get a clear picture.

  • What might be the consequences of these actions?
  • May it be a cultural tendency?
  • Compared to the last time you did this: did you make the same mistake?

Clarifying Questions

Result in further descriptions and explanations.

  • Are you saying that...?
  • Could you explain more about the situation?

Explorative Questions

Open up new avenues and insights and lead to new explorations.

  • Have you thought of... ?
  • Would ... have anything to help with that?

Analytical Questions

Examines causes and not just symptoms.

  • Why has this problem happened?
  • What are the needs that weren't met?
  • Could it be a cultural misunderstanding?

Less Effective Questions (Use With Care)

Closed Questions

Can be answered with yes or no, or a quantitative (number) response.

  • How many people will be affected?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Did you meet your quality criterias?
  • Do you agree with this decision?

Leading Questions

Encourage or force the person to respond in the way intended by the questioner.

  • Don't you think you should have...?
  • You thought I wouldn't notice, didn't you?
  • Jesus: "Did nobody condemn you?" John 8:10
  • "Adam, where are you?" Gen 3:9

A negative example (how leading questions can be abused):

  • The Snake: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" Gen 3:1

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Sources, notes and/or references
  1. Morris, J. (2011), “Minding our Ps and Qs”, in Pedler, M. (Ed.), Action Learning in Practice, 4th ed., Gower, New York, NY.

    "Fresh learning" consists of P and Q learning: P ("programmed") is insight picked up of others that we incorperate, either because we have to (formal education) or by what we see others doing (informal, subconcious education) ("The total stock of established knowledge." Morris). Q ("Questioning") is insight gained because we challenge beliefs and assumptions. (Revans (1987): "The learning equation: an introduction in Action Learning", Journal of Management Development, 6 (2). )

    Morris goes on to say that P is saving time by "standing on the shoulder of giants" (looking for common knowledge) while Q is an attitude of open-minded listening and watching, searching fresh solutions for apparent dilemmas (innovating and adapting). An appropriate balance of P and Q is needed. He recommends a community of ~5-6 co-learners, who through their relationships keep the tension between "learning from others" and "challenging each other".

    Also interesting: "Fearless questioning is at the heart of action learning and those who rule through fear know a threat to their power when they see one." (Morris2011, p. 36)
  2. (L. Crabb, "Shattered dreams", p. 151)