The importance of asking questions
“He who asks a question is ignorant for a few minutes. He who remains silent is ignorant for a lifetime.” – Old Chinese saying
Now that school is back in session, we should be reminding our children (and ourselves) about the importance of asking questions. This post is an updated extract from my first book “Forty Tools For Life.” As a child, you started learning by asking questions. As students, you continued to learn by asking questions. Never stop asking questions just because you’ve grown older. Asking questions is one of the most important habits you can develop. It’s absolutely the best way to learn. Smart people never stop asking questions because they know that this is the best way to gain deeper insights. “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ― Voltaire
The list of inventors and scientists who asked questions is long and prestigious. For example, Isaac Newton asked why apples fell from a tree. Charles Darwin wanted to know why there were so many unique species on the Galapagos Islands. Albert Einstein wondered what the universe would look like if he rode through it on a beam of light. Great philosophers ask deep questions about the meaning of life, and you should ask deep questions about the situations you face. It’s the best way to get the information you need to make informed decisions.
Ask ‘your’ questions
So why do people stop asking questions? For some, it’s because they are lazy. Don’t let that be you. Others are afraid that by asking questions, they’ll look foolish. Perhaps it’s also because of fear and apprehension. People may be afraid to find out the answer because it might change their life. Sometimes we feel it’s easier for someone else to ask the questions so that we can live our lives without making decisions. In school, you’re taught to find the correct answers to questions already asked, instead of asking your questions. The problem with that is that you’ll never expand your minds that way. And if you can’t expand your minds, you’re holding yourselves back.
The right context
If you want to get the right answers, e.g., the answers you want and need, you need to be good at asking questions. Whenever you ask a question, make sure you put it in the right context. Sometimes, you might want someone’s advice, sometimes you want information and facts (not an interpretation) and sometimes you want an opinion. Like any other skill, you’ll need to practice this to get good, and it won’t happen overnight. Make sure you as the right questions, too. Here are some helpful hints.
The ‘right’ questions
If you ask a yes or no question, you’ll usually get incomplete information. Instead, ask open-ended questions that can provide additional information you weren’t aware of. By using an open-ended question, you get insights and additional information you might not have known existed. Avoid questions with “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you think” because they will lead to a simple yes or no answer. Ask questions with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” or “why” to make to people think about their answers and offer much more information. Asking follow-up questions, such as “why do you say that?” or “can you elaborate on that?” can also provide greater insight and let you make your own opinions about things. Silence can also be a useful tool. Don’t be afraid to remain silent and allow people to provide more information. Quite often, the person you’re questioning will provide additional information if you just wait for it. And whatever you do, don’t interrupt – just listen.
Ask ‘good’ questions
It takes courage and intelligence to ask questions. It’s not a sign of weakness or uncertainty, as some people believe. You should continuously ask questions and be aware that you don’t have all the answers. The art of asking good questions is under-appreciated. When you don’t ask good or even enough questions, the quality of choices you make suffers. When you learn new things, you push yourself beyond what you already know. You also allow yourself to explore other people’s opinions by listening to what they tell you. Remember that good answers come from asking good questions!