Become better at asking questions

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

What will you do for the holidays? That is a common question and – without trying to sound spiteful – my answer is: I'll become better at asking questions.

Holidays is a perfect time to practice. We move – with physical distance – outside our normal circles. And whoever is asking interesting questions is appreciated as a guest as well as a host, right?

So how do you ask good questions?

Most important is to be curious about the answers. But preferably also try to help the one you're asking to see something new. Open up for deeper reflection, raise new questions.

So, don't ask what someone is working with. Ask what successes are you most ashamed of?

It is a question from one of my students at Stockholm School of Economics. I train them to ask questions since it is a true leadership skill.

At your next get-together or barbecue, invite people who think differently. Maybe they're liberal if you're conservative, or vice versa. Tricky barbecues are more exciting than reserved ones.

But avoid asking questions that corners the one you are talking to. Let them tell the story behind their position. What, for example, got your neighbor to start voting for the party you would never dream of? You may even discover that you share values. And flip, the world got bigger!

Or as high-profile Ibram X Kendi, who writes about anti-racism, says: The most important thing we can teach our children is to have difficult conversations.

Also beware of prejudices in your questions. When I ask my partner: Do you have to wear such ridiculous clothes when you play golf?, it’s a question that leads nowhere. A dead end.

One tip to improve is to find someone who is good at asking questions. Ask them to tell you how they do it. And dare to ask. Just think of the times you met someone who hardly asks any questions at all. The monologue man or woman. My tip then is to ask: What do you think makes a really interesting person to talk to?

I learned early on that asking questions was valuable. I was the girl who sat at the front and bombarded the teachers with questions. It gave me knowledge as well as good grades.

However, this type of pupil has become increasingly rare. Many students ask no questions at all. It puzzles me. Have we become worse at asking questions? Where did we lose curiosity and imagination?

Albert Einstein said that if he had an hour to solve a vital problem, he would spend 55 minutes formulating the question and five minutes solving it. That's a rule of thumb for us.

How about spending the summer holidays to improve your mind-broadening questions? Become a little more inquisitive in a humble and curious way. Invite to a tricky barbecue. Emma Stenström Also published in Dagens Industri

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