The Art of Asking a Question

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Learning How to Ask a Questions, Not Demand Answers

By: George Oakes

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Throughout my journey in both academia and working in the real world. I have learned allot about the importance of communication. Now this sentiment has had drilled into everyone at one time or another. However, there is one key aspect that is often assumed and there for overlooked, that is the art of crafting a question. Now everyone learns how to ask questions especially the most important one "Why?" at a young age. What is not taught is the difference between asking a question and demanding an answer.

To some these may seem like two names for the same action, when in truth they are two similar yet distinctively different tools to gain knowledge. The simplest way to see the two separately is in the comparison of a survey and an Interview. In a Survey the participant is given a list of questions with a limited amount of answers whether it be in a weighted or a true/false variant. In this scenario the participant has little choice outside the given option, except not to answer. This is one example of demanding an answer Interviewing leaves the opportunity for the participant to put more of themselves into their answers. Which potentially leads to giving an answer not predicted by those conducting the interview. Now interviews still have the potential of demanding answers if the Interviewer feels the participant is not answering the question.

Which leads us to understand what it means to ask a good question . We have all heard the expression " Their is no such thing as a stupid question". To which many of us may feel we have had experiences that counteracts this statement. I myself came across one while taking a political survey sometime back which asked "Is it acceptable for the Military to break International Laws during a time of Conflict?". Now to some this may seem like a completely acceptable question. However. to any of my International Law and Politics peers this question may seem redundant for Military actions and International Conflict in their very existence can be argued to be a violation of International Law. This is a very specific example but it does show the quality of a question is perspective related. For I am not a Astrophysicists so to me a question on what ice-cream would taste like on the moon seems like a completely reasonable one.

Perspective is everything in our world. I have met many that believe there is only one truth and many falsehoods. I my self believe there are many truths all with a varying degree of truth and fiction. Yet, it is rare if ever we find the whole truth. I have held many beliefs during my short time and I have gained many more and lost just as many.

This s from having allot of conversations with people from various backgrounds, experiences, and locations. To gain experience one must gain perspective in which you mush shed your own perspective even for a short time.

To which brings us to one of the most important aspects of crafting a good question. Trying not to predict what an acceptable answer is. Now, it is only natural to have predictions of likely answers, answers you agree with, and ones you do not. The key thing to remember is conversations are not tests. There are no true right and wrong answers when trying to understand another's perspective on an issue. Now this is not true for much of the scientific or physical fields such as engineering or carpentry. Where Ulm's law and the length of a meter are constant. However holding a conversation is an art not a science and needs to be approached in the same way.

I myself make stained glass windows as a hobby. Its something my father passed onto me. And much like people you think you know everything about a pain of glass by getting a decent look through it. yet every stained glass artesian can tell you they have been sliced cut or splintered because they assumed the art would break along the cut they had made. yet just like people there are knots, rains, and bubbles hidden in the glass we can only find by being patient and careful. Yet those misjudged cuts and breaks have been known to perfect to fit in the windows after all even better then a predicted cut.

So I ask you to look at the unexpected answers in the same light. for they may not have been what you wanted but they may be what you need to ask a better and more informative question.

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