Question Behaviour

There are hundreds of sites for asking questions – some focusing on particular areas such as programming or building a business, others which are open to any type of question. In recent weeks, I have spent time browsing through questions and answers, looking at the way in which people phrase their thoughts.

What struck me as interesting is that there are two types of questions, leading to particular types of answers. On the one hand, there are questions posed which are carefully crafted to avoid leading the answers. On the other side are the questions in which the author has a clear opinion, and is leading the answers down a particular path.

A side effect of these two general types of questions is the nature of the question itself – how well does it indicate to the reader what the true question is?

As an example, a question might be posed regarding ettiquette of exchanging business cards (I asked this question a few weeks ago on Linked In) and the answers to this question will be diverse. The question posed a particular situation, and the answers, for the most part, stayed on topic with people not only saying what they might have done, but also explaining why.

On the other side, I asked another question regarding networking styles, both online and offline (also on Linked In). The answers to this question were not what I was expecting – while they all were connected to networking, they didn’t answer my question. I later went and added a clarification to the question, hoping to get the information I was really seeking.

Does this mean I don’t always ask good questions? Perhaps. Except that I’ve noticed that I’m not alone in seeing this situation.

Does this mean that people aren’t good at expressing themselves well when asking questions? Certainly a possibility.

What I think is the true issue has to do with the first statement I made regarding the two types of questions. When we are being truly honest with ourselves and seeking information, we will try as hard as possible to not bias the answer. However, we can often be a little too good at that, resulting in a loss of information that would help clarify the question to the audience.

When asking a question, there is going to be a balancing act happening between the not cluttering the question with irrelevant facts, and providing sufficient information so that the audience understands what is being asked.

So, if you’re looking for something you can teach others, try teaching people how to ask questions. It’s a need that, when satisfied, will help people communicate that much better.