“Some questions have the potential to catalyze breakthroughs and inspire transformations, while others lead to stagnation and demoralization. The difference lies in whether you ask ‘learner questions’ or ‘judger questions,’ says Marilee Adams, president and founder of the Inquiry Institute and author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work.
‘Learner questions are open-minded, curious, and creative,’ she says. ‘They promote progress and possibilities, and typically lead to discoveries, understanding, and solutions.’ A learner question, for example, might be, ‘What are my goals?’ ‘What am I responsible for?’ “How can I help?’ and ‘What do our customers want?’
By contrast, judger questions are more closed-minded, certain, and critical, says Adams. ‘They focus on problems rather than solutions and often lead to defensive reactions, negativity, and inertia,’ she says. For example, ‘Who is to blame?’ or ‘Why aren’t we winning?’
Learner questions facilitate progress by expanding options, while judger questions impede progress by limiting perspectives. ‘It’s natural for individuals and teams to ask both learner and judger questions, but without learner questions, results suffer,’ says Adams.
End every meeting with a question
Questions can also clarify expectations and make sure everyone is on the same page. Even if you think you understood your colleague or manager, there is a good chance you didn’t, says Grant Halvorson; the problem arises from something psychologists call the ‘illusion of transparency.’
‘Because we know what we are thinking and feeling, and what our intentions are, we assume that it’s obvious to other people, too,’ she says. ‘People think they’ve said more than they did, so there is a good chance you are missing something that may have gone unsaid.’
Resolve this problem by repeating back to the person what you think they said, suggests Grant Halvorson. ‘Something like, ‘Okay, just to be sure I’ve got the important details . . . ’ This clears up any misunderstandings that may have arisen,’ she says.”