HOW TO ASK QUESTIONS THE SMART WAY
It’s time for another jolly ride.
Let’s be off and discover yet again more amazing kinds of stuff of the mind – asking questions.
Today, I will be dealing with the mother of all learning – inquiry.
I would explore the art (or science if you like) of asking questions that prompt just the right answer.
You would agree with me if I say that the quality of a question is directly related to the quality of the answer one gets.
In other words, questions are like the ancestors of answers – there is some kind of genetic relationship between them. The nature of the question always imprints itself on the form of the answer.
Needless to say, that an ill-formed question will almost always prompt a deformed answer.
An inquiry is a vital link in the process of learning. Every form of active acquisition of knowledge begins with and is steered by it.
It links curiosity (which is the first step of unravelling a mystery) to experimentation, examination or exploration; bringing the ignorant to a state of awareness or enlightenment that puts him in a position better than the one he was at the beginning of the inquiry.
Having said so much, I trust that by now, you have a very good grasp of the subject at hand.
So, let me dig in!
1. How you ask is as important as what you ask.
Let’s go back to the ancestor-progeny relationship we put forward with regards to questions and answers.
A person that asks the question(s) is like a midwife of knowledge. The one who answers is the one giving birth to the knowledge and the answer is the baby.
The midwife is not just concerned about getting the baby out of the womb (the what), but just as important is making sure the baby gets out alive (the how).
When you ask questions, you should be acutely aware that you are defining the parameters of your curiosity or ignorance. This definition is what guides the person designated to answer the question.
It is more than appropriate to say that being wrongly guided leads one to the wrong destination.
Unfortunately, the wrong definition leads to the wrong parameterization, and the wrong parameterization leads to the wrong conclusions.
If this is the case, one’s last state is sadly worse than the first and asking a question would have done no good at all.
2. A series of simple questions is better a complex one.
The essence of a question is simplifying a complex concept.
Starting out on the wrong foot of complexity simply worsens one’s ignorance either by promoting a complicated answer or confusing the perception of the person answering entirely.
When it comes to asking questions, small is more.
Knowledge, if it is to be beneficial is not just to be accumulated in misshapen lumps but organized into logical procedures that form concise parts of a larger whole.
The only way to do this is to structure one’s question to gather answers in bits and bites, line upon line, precept upon precept, gradually chipping away the mountain of ignorance while also steadfastly building the palace of knowledge.
Assaulting that huge mountain of ignorance all at once dulls one’s axe. Even if the answers were correct, the information deluge would overwhelm you, leaving you lost and mentally worn.
So, keep it small to get it right.
3. Start with the basics.
The process of inquiry builds on prior knowledge.
Usually, questions are asked based on the perception of ignorance on the topic.
In other words, you ask questions to make up for what you know about not what you do not know.
This ‘starting knowledge’ as I call it, is critical to the kind of questions you ask and of course, the kind of answers you get.
A flawed first-knowledge will certainly give you a wrong bias that might get you off track.
If the person answering does not have an insight into the flaw, you are bound to get floored.
And even if you get the right answer, it won’t work because the combination of a flawed premise and a fine answer will give the wrong kind of surprise.
It’s like having a fine building on a not-so-fine foundation, the building goes down before long.
So, begin every question with an initial request for whoever is answering to lay out the basics – whether you know it or not – to make sure you’ve got it right.
With the basics intact, flawed biases, wrong preconceptions and misleading perspectives are eliminated.
4. Ask the right person.
That should be obvious, right? Maybe not.
But if it is, what makes a teenager ask her friends or questionable websites about sensitive issues that should not be veered into. And don’t think that’s just adolescents, even grown-ups do!
Two things make you do this – ego and sentiment.
They are both psychological predispositions that tend to becloud your judgement. Ego makes you not to ask someone you feel you are superior to.
It could also make you not ask someone before whom you do not want to appear ignorant. Well, there is nothing impressive or attractive about ignorance.
If I may advise you on that issue, I think they are probably going to respect you more for being open and honest about your limits. They will also consider themselves to be of value for you to ask them to fill the knowledge gap; if they are respectable people, that is, the kind of people you should be hanging out within the first place.
The second is sentiment.
You may be familiar with some avenues of answers that you feel they can never be wrong. Except they are God, may I put it to you that your premise is wrong.
While ego has to do with identifying your own limits, dealing with sentiment requires that you objectively assess the limits of your closest associates so as to know when to approach someone else for answers.
Knowledge is objective, seeking it while putting on subjective lenses corrupts it and destroys its validity.
So, before you ask that person, ask if that person is the right person because only the right person will give you the right answer.
5. Cast a wide net.
Essentially, what I am saying here is that you seek your answer from more than one source.
An indirectly implied question from the previous point is how you identify the right person.
You would wonder how you could ever justify the answer you get from a source, right person or not. It’s simple, let your inquiry be deep as it is wide.
A strong information base guarantees a strong, steady and perhaps unassailable knowledge base; not to mention getting multiple perspectives on the topic.
No matter how sure you are of the person answering, take the pain to explore other avenues; not just for verification but also to give you a richer, stronger grasp of the subject matter.
The internet these days afford you this opportunity of being the proverbial curious blind men, appraising elephants from different directions.
It is for this simple but effective reason that the academia justifies a finding only after the results have been reproduced under identical conditions.
So, don’t just inquire, go the extra mile of doing meaningful research. Perhaps, someone someday might leverage on your diligence to deal a mortal blow to his own ignorance.
I would deal with this last because it is the foundation behind the foundation. We stressed earlier that questions are the basis for learning.
Curiosity, in the same way, is the basis for asking any kind of question.
To be curious about a subject is to find it genuinely interesting albeit, nothing is interesting if you’re not interested.
There is this primal ecstasy that comes from satisfying your curiosity.
You feel a sense of empowerment by somehow knowing what you want to know through questions.
Most strides in development spring first from curiosity even before money. Nurturing one’s curiosity sets one up for an innovative life, not without disappointments but nonetheless full of life-changing discoveries.
You learn to pioneer, set the pace and hence make the rules – may I ask you, what could be sweeter than that?
Curiosity is the key to asking. It is like a master key that opens all doors of knowledge. It is a key so vital that without it, we will still be stuck in the primitive ages, hacking away at stones and not even wondering what an easier life looks and feels like.
So, boldly throw open the intuitive doors of curiosity and imagination and see the world respond similarly by magically opening up to you…