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Questions (1): who’s it for?

A questions about questions:

Who is it for?

Always, our questions are self motivated:

  • We’re looking for answers.
  • We just want to know.
  • The answer will help us in some way.

We also ask questions for other people:

  • We ask on behalf of others who can’t or won’t ask – because we want their question to be heard by others, or because we want them to have an answer they need.
  • We want an answer so that we can make something better for someone else.
  • We ask to show the person we’re asking that we’re engaged.
  • We ask to give the person we’re asking the chance to talk about something that’s important to them.
  • We ask to invite the person we’re asking to go in a new direction or consider something more deeply.

These are all fine reasons. What we need to watch out for are the questions we ask for other reasons:

  • We ask to get attention, so that we look smart to the other people in the room.
  • We ask to make the person we’re talking to look small, or foolish, or unprepared.
  • We ask to score points in private arguments.
  • We don’t really ask at all – we take the opportunity of asking a question to make our own point to the room.
  • We ask to avoid thinking things through for ourselves.

Not all of these are bad all the time – there’s a time and a place for pointing out the flaws in another person’s thinking. But we’ll rarely win friends or influence by attention seeking or point scoring, and we get the best value of all when we do the harder work of answering our own questions.

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