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July 3, 2012 / mike54martin

Getting the Right Answer

There are many ways to get the right answer but only if you know the right question. The great scientist and futurist Carl Sagan had this to say on the subject: “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”

In our everyday lives and too often in the workplace we ask the wrong question and we certainly tend to focus on quantity versus quality when it comes to asking questions. There may indeed be no “stupid” questions but there are questions that can help get closer to the truth and others which pull you far, far away.

In general there are two types of questions. There are questions that seek to learn and questions that seek to judge or get a person to lean our way in an argument or dispute. Judging and leaning questions are really looking to assign blame, defend an already held position or move another person closer to our point of view. Learning questions however are actually looking for new information and facts and sharing responsibility to resolve or improve a situation.

Another way to look at questions is to categorize them as powerful or power- draining questions. Powerful or empowering questions might be like what might best work for you in this situation or when are you most effective? Power-draining questions might be what went wrong here or how could this have happened? You can see how one set or style of questions might produce a completely different answer and result.

If you really want to improve a situation or get information that can correct a problem it is much better to ask a question in a way that allows the person to actually give you something to work with rather than retreating behind the cone of silence or even worse giving you incorrect information. Many times this means asking the question in a neutral way that shows you are not on a witch hunt. That might mean prefacing your question with a comment like “I’m not blaming anybody.. I just want to know what went wrong.” Then ask your question and watch as the tension drains from the other person’s face.

The other major thing to focus on in getting the right answer is to actually listen to the person who is trying to answer your question. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Ask your question as neutrally or powerfully as you can and then wait and wait and wait for the answer. Don’t ask another question while you’re waiting. Don’t try to pre-empt their answer. Sometimes people are just thinking or maybe they are trying to decide if they can trust you.

Ask the right question, in the right way, and wait for the response. You just might get the right answer.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and workplace wellness consultant. He is also the author of the new book “The Walker on the Cape.” For more information please visit:


One Comment

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  1. Kitty Kilian / Jul 3 2012 8:36 pm

    Right. Two ears and one mouth. Gotcha!

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