It is of great concern to educators that the percentage of students who ask questions during plummets from near 100% when they are 2 years of age to only 25% by the time they are 18 and finishing high school.
It is the inverse of the percentage who gain the ability to read and write during those years and parallels the decline in the number of students who are engaged in learning.
It isn’t coincidence that it also parallels engagement in the American workforce, including those in management and policy-making.
Somewhere in that decline, the majority of Americans lose their ability to be creative and innovative because they focus almost solely on answers rather than asking questions.
Sometimes it is cultural. In the South, where I have lived for 26 years now, it seems that questions are often interpreted as criticism. From there it is only a short hop to avoiding crucial confrontations and/or conversations.
Polluting the process even more in the workplace is the tendency of some people to make statements that should be in the form of questions.
The Right Question Institute is working to help educators focus on teaching how to inquire rather than just memorizing answers.
This includes publishing a primer entitled, Make Just One Change.
For the workplace, an excellent article just appeared in Harvard Business Review entitled, Relearning the Art of Asking Questions.
This could also be used to help teach how to ask questions in the workplace or among stakeholders in community endeavors, even on List Serves.
The authors, who work for Mu Sigma, provide a model for asking better questions as well as taking them in stride. In my experience, I agree that far too many meetings fail because people “talk past each other.”
The model divides questions into those seeking a wider view of the issue under discussion vs. those that seek to narrow or deepen the discussion. In both instances, there are questions meant to affirm what we know and those meant to discover something new.
Questions are divided into those that are adjoining or elevating to the topic at hand (think strategic) and those that are clarifying or seek to drill down deeper into the topic.
With some of the groups with which I am involved in retirement, it would probably be useful if we each prefaced our questions using with one of these four purposes (smile) or places a notation on the agenda signifying which kind of questions are in order.
Questions are not criticism or challenges. They are gateways to learning, enlightenment, alignment, creativity and innovation.
They are as important to adults as they were when we asked an average of 40,000 questions between the age of 3 and 5.