“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

This is one of my favorite quotes by French writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire. 

This past Thursday and Friday, Stephanie McGovern and I facilitated the two-day course ‘Fundamentals of Organization Development’ at the University of Minnesota. We do this three times a year and I feel fortunate. Stephanie is a richly experienced, wonderfully vibrant OD connoisseur with a passion for organizational and human dynamics and a contagious laugh. My luck doesn’t stop here though. Our group of 27 participants from a variety of industries was awesome: eager, curious, reflective, and very fun to work with.

In the context of using ‘self as instrument’ and maximizing the OD consultant’s emotional intelligence, we talked about the importance of non-judgmental curiosity. Two skills that are intertwined with this kind of curiosity are asking questions and deep listening. Attendees of our course asked for resources on asking great questions, so here are three books, 1 article, and my own sample of questions. The questions listed here can help you connect, dig deeper, gain understanding, question your assumptions, bridge gaps, and calm the waters.

Article and books:

Before I give you a sampling of my favorite questions, please remember that our first and the most obvious questions are generally based on what we already know or think we know. They are based on assumptions that you may not have questioned and on interpretations that seem logical and true, to you. Different and better questions will help you explore issues in new ways. Below you find examples of questions that deepen your thought processes and those of others. Please share your favorite questions with me.

Am I/are we surrounding ourselves enough with people with diverse beliefs?

What elephant in the room could we be addressing at this very moment?

If we don’t change a thing, what will things look like next week, month?

How would things change if the opposite of what I believe were true?

How was I possibly involved even if I’m not causing the situation?

Am I listening to understand or am I listening to be understood?

What could be a completely different perspective on this issue?

What are different ways that I can be part of the conversation?

What might I have been neglecting or denying for some time?

Will what I am about to say or do help or harm the situation?

What could be dysfunctional that I am pretending to be fine?

What is something I should probably plan to do differently?

What may this person be fearing or trying to accomplish?

Are my assumptions valid?
If so, why?
If not, why not?

Am I showing up in critiquing or constructing mode?

What actions would I take if I were not afraid?

What is working and am I/are we utilizing it?

What if I am totally or partially wrong?

What is it that I’m holding on to?

How do I know that I am right?

How can I better support?

Am I protecting something?

Do I have enough data to freak out?

What influence may I/you not be using?

What are we afraid to admit and talk about?

What common ground may we be overlooking?

Is there anything we are not addressing right now?

What is in your way? What could move you forward?

What are we covering up for ourselves and for others?

I’d like to understand your worries, objectives, etc. better.

What truths may we not be telling each other around here?

What would be your suggestion for each of us to do differently?

What are the topics that are off limits in this team, organization?

How may things change if I/we flip the question or thought around?

Is this a good time for me to talk or should I invite someone to share?

What if I am missing, misinterpreting, over-emphasizing etc. something?

Would you have anything to add if you could speak your mind completely?

What style and person can counteract and complement my style right now?

What do you think I may be overlooking, exaggerating, misinterpreting etc.?

What would be your suggestion to improve our communication/collaboration?

Saving one of the best for last: 

How may I be in my own way right now with possible perfectionism, impatience, autobiographical listening, insecurity, or one of the many interpersonal allergies or cognitive biases that we all suffer from?

I wish you great questions for great conversations! As Einstein said: 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”