To say the least there is nothing more frustrating in this world than asking a question, getting an answer, but that answer not being the one you are looking for, except there is, even more frustrating is asking a question, believing the answer to be the answer you are looking for only to realise much later down the line that it is not. And the reason this most often happens is because we have unwittingly asked the wrong question.
For example take the question, “how do I lose weight.” This seems a perfectly acceptable question but in actual fact if a person inputted this as it is into say for example Google, with the intentions of finding a way to lose weight then in all probability they would find an answer but not the right answer. Meaning they would have little chance of losing the weight they want.
But how do you learn to ask the right question? By understanding one basic principle, the right question is a question which provides the answer you are looking for.
That may seem blindingly obvious but if it was blindingly obvious then non of us would ever ask the wrong questions which we all frequently do, some more than others. And none of us would ever struggle to find the answers we are looking for even when the answers are readily available.
With this in mind, here is the technique that I found to be best for improving the questions that you ask.
How to ask better questions
To ask the right question, or in some cases questions, we have to take a moment and think about three things: firstly, who we are asking the question/questions to; secondly, what our goals for asking the question are (and no it’s not to get the answers); and thirdly, what do we need to know to achieve those goals.
For example, take the first point, who are we asking the question to. If a person asks a personal trainer how to lose weight in all probability that personal trainer is going to ask a lot of questions in response which will help them make sure that they provide the right answer in regards to helping you achieving your goal.
However, to any person other than an expert who is skilled in working out exactly what it is you are asking, the question “how do I lose weight” is useless namely because it is far too ambiguous, after all the way a gym buff loses weight as a means to get ripped and the way an overweight person loses weight as a means to get healthy are two entirely different things. And yet if that question was typed into Google, it would provide answers for both the gym buff and the overweight person and a lot more making the answers useless.
That means to say the least when forming a question taking into account who it is we are asking the question to is immensely important. With this in mind, as Google is the predominant entity in which we all use these days to ask questions which we want answered, let’s see if we can use the said method to ask a better question than just how do I lose weight.
As we already know the answer to the first question, Google is who we will ask, we can swiftly move on to the second question, which is what is our goal for asking the question. Well that’s an easy one, to find a way to lose weight. This brings us to the third question, what do we need to know to achieve our goal, which in this case is losing weight.
So what do we need to know for you to lose weight? Well firstly we need to know about you, but as that’s not possible as every person reading this is different, let’s assume that a person called Bob is the one asking and let’s assume that Bob is overweight and wants to lose weight as a means to improve his general well-being. With this in mind what Bob needs to know to achieve his goal is how an overweight person with little experience in exercise and dieting can lose weight and improve their general well-being.
And right there is our question, “how can an overweight person with little experience in exercise and dieting lose weight and improve their general well-being?”
It really is as easy as that, by taking a moment and thinking about the question we have ended up with what is a far superior question than just asking “how can I lose weight”, and a question that in all probability if Bob input into Google would provide some decent options for how he could lose weight.
And we found this question easily by simply using the three aforementioned questions: who are we asking the question to, what is a goal for asking the question, what do we need to know to achieve the goal. That means with little effort we turned a poor question into a good question.
However, it should be noted we have gone a little overboard as in reality we probably don’t need to add the general well-being part, as it is self explanatory that a person trying to lose weight is also trying to improve their general well-being, also we can perhaps phrase the beginning a little better. For example, a better way to ask the question would be “what is the best way for an overweight person with little experience in exercise and dieting to lose weight?”
But that is just nitpicking, both questions would be perfectly acceptable. However, what is not nitpicking is wondering why age and gender have been omitted, surely they are important factors? And they are, but as Bob is asking the question himself, assuming he does not use Incognito mode, then Google should already know his age range and his gender meaning it is unnecessary to add them. This is why taking into account who you are asking is so important, what they know about you plays a big part in how you formulate your question.
For example, if we imagined that Bob was asking the question while using incognito mode, or using a search engine which knows nothing about its users like for example DuckDuckGo, it would be important to include this information, meaning Bob would need to ask a question along the lines of: “what is the best way for a middle-aged overweight man with little experience in exercise and dieting to lose weight?”
Another important point to take into consideration is if we were asking this question on behalf of Bob, Google knowing things about us would prove a problem, because the answers Google would give us would be tailored to our gender and to our age range meaning we would need to adapt the question so that we get the answer we are looking for. Which again is another reason why it cannot be emphasised enough that who you are asking the question to is just so important.
It really is the most important factor, ask the exact same question to two different people and you may get different answers, but tailor the questions to those two individuals and you may get the same answer.
With this in mind, imagining we were asking this question on Bob’s behalf, and imagining Google knows who we are, we would need to ask the same question we asked DuckDuckGo, which was: “what is the best way for a middle-aged man who is overweight and has little experience in exercise and dieting to lose weight?”
But not all the questions we ask are meant for Google, sometimes, perhaps rarely these days, but sometimes we need to ask people questions. Also not all the things we want to know can be found by asking one question, sometimes we need a lot of questions to find the answer we want. With this in mind, how do we work out which are the right questions to ask?
We use the exact same technique as we did for the question we came up with for Google. That is we consider firstly, who it is we asking the question to, secondly, what our goal is for asking the question, and thirdly what it is we need to know to achieve our goal. For example, imagine a doctor saying you have two options, surgery or physio, and you need to come up with some questions so that you can learn about both and make a decision. How would you work out which were the right questions to ask?
Well firstly you would need to know who you are going to ask questions to, the doctor, Google or someone else? Let’s assume that the doctor has told us that we can speak to both the surgeon and the physio and get some advice, which means you have an appointment with both the surgeon and the physio. For simplicity’s sake let’s imagine you do not have access to an online search engine. Under these circumstances, how would you formulate your questions?
Well let’s assume that your first appointment is with the surgeon, which means we now know who you are going to be asking your questions to. The surgeon. Next we need to work out your goal for asking the questions are, which in this case would be to learn as much about the surgery as possible so as to try to help to decide whether it would be better for you than physio or not.
Finally, we would need to work out what it is you need to know to achieve your goal, which would be as much about the surgery as possible along with the surgeon’s opinion on whether it is better than physio or not. But not just you would need to know about the surgeon himself, it is no good just asking for example what the generic success rate is, what you would need to know is what the surgeon’s success rate is.
With this in mind we can start formulating some questions which you could ask the surgeon, questions which may be along the lines of:
- What is the success rate of the surgery?
- Have you done this form of surgery before, and if so how many times, and how many successful outcomes have you had? Also has anything ever gone wrong, if so what?
- What are the potential complications?
- What does the surgery actually entail, talk me through what will actually happen and what you will do to me?
- Why should I choose surgery over physio?
- Would it be better to do physio first, and if that failed then have surgery? Or am I taking a risk by delaying surgery and having physio?
And those are some pretty solid questions, and once you have had this appointment and got the answers to these questions you would then do the exact same thing for the appointment with the physio. You would then use the answers to make a decision. And it is a fair bet that by using this process and taking some time to think about the question that are best to ask, you have a far better chance at making an informed decision, then just going into the appointment and asking the surgeon and physio to just tell you about the surgery and what the risk reward are.
So in conclusion the best way to ask the right questions is to actually spend some time thinking about what questions would be best to ask, and the best way to do that is by considering three factors, one, who you are asking the question/questions to, two, what your goal is for asking the question/questions, and three, what it is that you need to know to achieve that goal.
Start taking those three factors into account before formulating your questions and you’ll start to find that the right answers are a lot less elusive creatures.
That’s all from me for today, stay safe!