In the latest of our ‘Leadership Series’ of interviews, Catherine O’Kane (Principal of All Hallows’ Brisbane) spoke of constantly working to improve her skill in learning to ask the right questions.
She explained that we all ask a lot of questions. But do we ask the right questions? How do we know the right questions to ask? How do we ask the right questions, of ourselves and our team members, to help guide us to improved outcomes?
Catherine recommended a book ‘Wait, What?’ by James E Ryan. She spoke so highly of this book that I couldn’t wait to get hold of it – and I’m so pleased I did.
The book suggests that there are 5 key questions for us to use and build into our practice.
Question 1: “Wait, What?”
Whenever emotion is involved; in difficult conversations; or when faced with a challenge; it is easy to charge ahead, to react too quickly. We can jump into giving directions or voicing an opinion.
It is more difficult to pause, reflect and make sure you truly understand the situation. To gather information and develop a deeper understanding of other viewpoints can seem unnecessary.
Reminding yourself to ask ‘Wait, What?’ is the circuit breaker to jumping too quickly to conclusions. The question can be reframed in so many ways, such as ”Just a moment Mary, can we just go back to what you said. What do you mean when you say….”
Question 2: “I wonder…..”
James Ryan breaks this into two versions:
- “ I wonder why?” – this allows you to remain curious; to explore and broaden your thinking.
- “I wonder if?” – this is a trigger to looking at and trying something new. James maintains that every new thing he’s tried has begun with him asking “I wonder if I could do that?”
The two versions are obviously closely connected. “I wonder why?” focuses upon the existing situation and can easily lead to the future-focused question “I wonder if?”
Question 3: “Couldn’t we at least….”
This forms the foundation of an entire series of questions: “Couldn’t we at least agree?” to find common ground; “Couldn’t we at least take a look?”; “Couldn’t we at least get started?”
These questions allow us to make progress. They encourage us to try. They spark movement.
Question 4: “How can I help?”
This is an important step in developing a genuine relationship based upon reciprocity. You are not offering to solve someone’s problem, you are prompting them to take ownership. You are validating a concern they have and are showing empathy to their situation. This question can change the whole tone of a difficult conversation.
Question 5: “What truly matters?”
This question can help you address some of the biggest decisions you will ever make. This question ensures that regardless of the setting, you strip away the irrelevant aspects and stay focused on the most important issues, the heart and soul of any decision.
In the final chapter of James’ book he includes a Bonus Question. I’ll let you discover that for yourself!
James Ryan suggests that these 5 questions are really the only five essential questions in life. He promotes that you should get in the habit of asking them of yourself and others.
I always find a book the most satisfying way to gather information and learn, but I know we’re all different. For those of you who prefer to watch, here is a YouTube presentation from James.