“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.
You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”
-Naguib Mahfouz – Egyptian Novelist

We ask a question like “How was your day?” and we get a one word answer like “fine” or we ask “Did you enjoy are weekend together?” and we get “Yes”. When we ask questions to like these we are usually trying to start a conversation or at the very least elicit a response that helps us to understand the depth of someone’s experience and when we get a one or two word answer we become frustrated at the lack of response and often feel as though our communication is not what we desire it to be. We get frustrated with the person who is responding in one word answers.

Questions are a critical part of conversation yet many people do not think about the questions they are asking. There are two primary ways to ask a question. A question can be a closed ended question or an open ended question.

A closed ended question is a question that elicits a one word answer. “Is it cold outside” is a closed ended question because it is only asking for a yes or a no. When we ask closed ended questions the communication usually comes to an abrupt stop until the next question is asked. If you are attempting to have a conversation closed ended questions can be very limiting and frustrating. Closed ended questions do have their place. Sometime we want a direct yes or no.

Open ended questions are questions that you cannot usually answer with a simple yes or no. Take the question “Did you have a good time at the party?” this is a closed ended question which will usually get a yes or a no.  Let’s take the same question and make it open ended, “What was your experience at the party like?” This open ended question will give the person the opportunity to tell you all about the party and you won’t have to ask a series of questions to pull the information out of the person. Open end questions are designed to elicit more information than a closed ended question.

One of the keys to getting great answers is to ask the right questions. The way to ask the right questions is to ask yourself what kind of answer do you want to receive. Before you ask someone a question you should always take a moment and consider what answer you want to get back. Once you have an idea of the answer that you want to receive than you can formulate your question to elicit the response you desire.

Asking questions is crucial to our growth. Many people shy away from asking questions because they are in fear of looking foolish. Many people are afraid that everyone expects them to know the answer already and therefore they don’t ask the question. We have all heard that “there is no such thing as a foolish question” this is usually true, however there is more to this thought “there is no such thing as a foolish question except the one that is never asked”.

We must be willing to ask questions. We must summon the courage to look foolish or ignorant in the short term for in the long term it is always the wise person who asks the question.

Well formulated questions in relationships are the mortar between the bricks of a relationship. It is the unasked or poorly asked questions that undermine the strength of relationships.

I encourage you today to think about the questions you are asking and to assess weather or not your questions are effective. Ask more open ended questions, I assure you that you will be surprised at the impact it will have on your relationships as people will feel that you are truly interested in what they have to say.

Ask more questions and often you will come up with more questions than you will answers, that is okay, as a matter of fact this is a sign of true growth. Keep asking questions, keep growing and remember that asking questions is a trait of the wise person!

One last thought; remember if you are going to ask the question you must be prepared to hear the answer even if it is not the one you want to hear.

“Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why”

~Bernard Baruch – American Statesman

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