学会提问 / Learning How to Question

学会提问

提问是与生俱来的能力,起源于对周遭世界天生的好奇。

幼儿在学会喊“爸爸”“妈妈”之后,很快就开始提问。

再过不久,他们就进入了“为什么”年龄段,最喜欢问的就是“为什么”。

“为什么这个这样?”“为什么那个那样?”“为什么这个不像那个?”等等等等,没日没夜,经年累月,反反复复,各种“为什么”。

好父母就像好老师,会欢庆这个“为什么”阶段,会试着将它作为孩子发展的积极转折点。当然,另外一种态度就是极不耐烦,教训孩子“别再问这些傻问题了。”

无论父母如何处理这些纷至沓来的“为什么”,我们都可以从儿童的行为中发现,凡事问个“为什么”是人性中根深蒂固的本能,似乎存活的时间也很长。

这是件好事,因为于公于私,用正确的方式提出正确的问题通常是决定成败的关键。

用有效的方式聪明地提问,这种能力不能靠直觉,而要通过学习来掌握,并且值得格外努力地学习和提高。

在某些行业中,学会如何提问是正规学习的一部分。想想电视脱口秀主持人、心理学家、人事专家、法庭律师、调查记者等行业就明白了。

但是,除却这些行业以外,用更有效的方式提问其实对各行各业都有好处。

相反,不能或不愿提出正确的问题常常是失败的根源。一个重要的例子就是销售员不问清顾客的需求就开始兜售产品。这种做法玩不长。

提问的学问千变万化,与语境甚至文化背景都有关系。正确有效地提问需要三个要素:有序思维,尊重和信任。

首先,有序思维指的是要提前想好需要了解的主要信息,然后再以可以促进获取信息的方式组织好问题的架构。考虑周详的问题可以实现这一点,同时也可以更多地避免回答者闪烁其词或流于应付。

举一个提问欠考虑的例子,在招聘中让应试者用“是”或“否”来回答有没有较强的问题解决能力,当然大部分人都会回答“是”了。更好的做法是把问题改为陈述题,让应试者描述一下可以证明他们解决问题能力的情景。(人力资源入门小知识之一)

其次,尊重也十分重要。提问者高高在上或漫不经心都会让事情脱轨。(当然除非你是狱卒,对方是囚犯,但我们这里说的是提问而不是审问。)

借助语言和肢体动作,对方需要感受你的尊重,包括尊重他本人、他的职位、他的智慧、以及宝贵的时间等等。在这方面表现出谦恭和真诚十分可贵,因为这些都是成为好听众的必备素质,可以让人对你敞开心扉。

尊重也关乎初步信任的建立,或者至少可以缓解掩盖在表面下的不信任。

斯塔兹•特克尔是美国伟大的作家、广播家、历史学家、演员,于2008年去世,享年96岁。特克尔具备一种非凡的能力,可以对来自各行各业的陌生人进行访问。他无数次成功地打开了陌生人的话匣,让他们把自己的生活故事、不堪之处乃至种种都和盘托出。特克尔也具备赢得尊重,建立信任,提出高水准的问题并仔细聆听的能力。所以他对美国及美国人的口述历史作出了巨大的贡献。

几年前我在科罗拉多州圆石市访问管理大师吉姆•柯林斯,他告诉我优秀的领导提问比发表意见多,而且比大多数人更会用不同的方式组织问题。他说有追求的领导和经理人应该多想想提问和表态的比例。他还发现杰出领导的发问风格更着重于如何获得基于经验的证据和事实,而不是意见看法。

这再简单不过了。聪明人之所以聪明是因为他们问的问题最多。

风俗文化常常阻碍人们提问,有时是怕冒犯人,有时是怕问出蠢问题让别人觉得自己很傻。

我的指导原则是只有问不出口的问题才是蠢问题。

这再简单不过了。聪明人之所以聪明是因为他们问的问题最多。所以我的忠告是“不断地提问”,但事先一定要想好。

考量提问和表态的比例,以及改进组织问题的方式是行之有效的办法,

但是,拜托你不要问我“为什么”。

Learning How to Question

Our ability to ask questions comes naturally, powered by an innate curiosity about the world around us.

Very soon after little kids learn how to say “baba” and “mama”, they start asking questions.

Not long after that, children reach the age of “why?” That’s the age when their favorite question is “why?”

“Why is this like this?” “Why is that like that?” “Why is such-and-such not like so-and-so?” And so on, and so on, and so on, all day, all night, all week, all month, again and again and again: “Why?”

Great parents, like great teachers, celebrate this “why” stage, and try to make it a positive turning point in the child’s development. The alternative, of course, is to get impatient and say “Stop asking all these silly questions!”

No matter how the parents handle the avalanche of “whys”, we can see from children’s behavior that the instinct of asking “why?” is deeply ingrained in human nature. It seems to have a very long shelf life.

That’s a good thing, because in business as well as life, asking the right question in the right way often means the difference between success and failure.

The ability to ask smart questions in an effective way is not intuitive. It is an acquired skill, one worthy of special effort to learn and improve upon.

In some career paths, learning how to ask questions is a part of the formal learning process. Think of television talk show hosts, psychiatrists, HR professionals, courtroom lawyers, investigative journalists, and so on.

Above and beyond these few career paths, however, the benefits of asking questions in a more effective way can accrue in any profession.

Conversely, the inability or unwillingness to ask the right question is often a recipe for failure. A prime example is the sales executive who begins pitching the customer without first asking about his or her needs. Game over.

There are countless variables in the calculus of questioning, which are obviously dependent on context, and to some extent, culture. Getting it right, and asking questions in an effective manner, requires three key elements: mental discipline, respect and trust.

The first, mental discipline, means thinking clearly in advance about the key information you want, and then framing your questions in such a way that you enhance your ability to obtain it. Well-thought out questions will achieve this, while at the same time making it more difficult for answers to be evasive or superficial.

An example of a poorly thought-out question, in a job interview setting, would be one in which the candidate is asked a “yes” or “no” question about whether or not they have strong problem solving abilities. Of course most would answer “yes”. A better alternative would be to phrase the question so the candidate is asked to describe a particular situation in which they demonstrated their problem solving abilities. HR 101.

The second part — respect — is also very important. A condescending or flippant attitude on the part of the questioner may push the train off the tracks. (Unless, of course you are the prison warden and the other party is a prisoner; but we’re talking about questioning here rather than interrogation.)

Through verbal and body language, the other party needs to sense your respect for them, their position, their intelligence, their precious time, and so on. Projecting humility and sincerity in this context is an asset because these are qualities we associate with good listeners, who are the kind of people we are more likely to open up to.

That sense of respect is also key to establishing the early stages of trust, or at least tempering any distrust which may be present beneath the surface.

Studs Terkel was a great American writer, broadcaster, historian and actor who died in 2008 at the age of 96. He had an incredible ability to interview total strangers from all different walks of life. Again and again, he succeeded in getting them to open up and tell him their life stories, warts and all. Terkel had the ability to win respect, establish trust, ask really good questions, and listen very carefully. As a result, he made enormous contributions to the oral history of America and the American people.

When I interviewed management guru Jim Collins in his offices in Boulder, Colorado, a few years ago, he observed that great leaders have a high question to statement ratio, as well as the ability to frame their questions differently than most people do. He said that aspiring leaders and managers should think about their question to statement ratio. He also observed that the questioning style of great leaders focuses on obtaining empirical evidence and facts, rather than opinion.

It’s really very simple. The smartest people ask the most questions. That’s how they got so smart.

Often, culture and customs inhibit people from asking questions, for fear of offending someone, or for fear of looking stupid by asking what others may think is a dumb question.

My guiding principle on this has always been that the only dumb question is the one you’re afraid to ask.

It’s really very simple. The smartest people ask the most questions. That’s how they got so smart. So, my advice is “keep on asking”, but think before you ask.

It’s a useful exercise to consider your question to statement ratio, and consider ways to improve the way you frame your questions.

But, please, don’t ask me “Why?”


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