My physicist husband once told me, “finding the right question is more important than finding the answer.” He should know, his life’s work consists of finding questions about why and how the universe works and then answering them.
But this conversation got me thinking about how the sentence really applies to many other areas of life. It should be a core principle of teaching, because it is questions – the why’s and the why nots – that really fire our curiosity and motivate us to seek knowledge. Seeking answers can lead to a full stop – unless you know the correct answer to ask next. Questions are what drive mankind forward, whether in philosophy, science, engineering or business.
In fact there are about 5 questions that are extremely valuable in life, especially if you are in a position to lead and influence others.
Can I get more information?
Too often we are ready to jump to conclusions and more often than not, these are heavily biased due to our preconceived notions. Or sometimes, we miss out on important details because we are in a rush to just get things over with. ‘I need more information’ can be critical in stopping us from making faulty judgements and help us get a greater understanding in any situation.
I wonder why…?
As children, this is our constant go-to question in the process of discovering and understanding the world around us. Somehow in the process of growing up we shed our curiosity and wonder and start accepting things the way they are. Breaking out of this mold is essential if we want to usher in change and it begins with wondering why things are the way they are, and what needs to be done if we want to effect a change.
How can I help?
This question is great because it shows the other person that you care. It also puts them in charge of figuring out what exactly is the problem at hand, and articulating what they need rather than having you assume and show that you know better.
Can we at least…?
Many a times, we find ourselves stuck in a logjam with no possible answer in sight. At such times, it helps to focus on the least common denominator that is possible and help us take baby steps to move forward, even if there is no comprehensive solution to the problem. This is useful whether one is tackling things alone or stuck in a group conflict situation with two or more opposing views at loggerheads. And ‘Can we at least…’ is just the question to help you find that tiny first step or minimum common ground.
What really matters?
It can be very easy to get stuck in ideas about how things should be or how they are being done for ages. Asking what really matters is essential to think about what is most important to us or what is our ultimate goal. Understanding this can free us from getting caught up in unnecessary protocols or superfluous work. It helps ground us and also more ready to compromise on the little unimportant things so as to get what we really want.
Of course, these are not the only questions that need asking. But having these in your daily arsenal are really useful. Is there any other you would add to this list?