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Hurdles to Better Questions

This lesson is a part of an audio course 5 Ways to Improve Question Skills by Dean Heffta

It's tempting when we want to get better at something to jump right into the "Top ten tips and tricks" – but if we really want to improve, we need to be aware of some of the things that may be keeping us from already being more effective.

In everything we do, we bring our whole history/perspectives/experiences into it. If we want to Do something better – we may first need to get clear on what we need to stop doing or how our thinking may need to shift.

I'm going to introduce you to five potential hurdles that you may need to address in your process of amplifying your question skills.

Environmental Conditioning

This is the result of all the positive and negative outcomes we have experienced around asking questions. The conditioning could lead us to be more prone to ask questions because of our good experiences – but it became a hurdle when good things happened by not asking questions, or we've had bad results when we have asked questions.

Here are a couple of examples:

Ryan was an accomplished horse judge. Since he was 12 years old, he studied and competed in judging quarter horses. For nearly ten years, he focused his talent on evaluating the animals and being decisive. Questions were seen as self-doubt. Taking a clear and informed stand was rewarded. By the time he started his career after college, he didn't even realize that he was used to winning by not asking questions.

Amy, on the other hand, was very inquisitive as a young girl. However, her parents discouraged her questions. Suggesting children should be seen and not heard and that all these questions she asked weren't very lady-like. She learned to have a negative association with using questions.

Our environment will affect our view. The key is being aware of how our experiences inform our current perspective.

Natural Disposition

In the 1970s, Dr. Taibi Kahler identified that we all have six perceptions that contribute to the makeup of our personalities. He also found that one of those is our strongest perception and has been so since we were infants. How this affects our view of questions is that he found 35% of the population have a perception whose easiest form of communication is through asking questions. This means that some people will be predisposed to use questions while many others may find connecting that way is less comfortable.

The good news is, with intention and awareness – anyone can develop the parts of their personality that ask questions. His work was significant enough that it was used in the NASA Shuttle program and even Pixar studios in how they script characters.

Lack of Preparation

Like any skill, the development of our question ability requires conscious attention. Often when asked why they didn't ask better questions – people site not being prepared. Lawyers prepare their line of questioning and Interviewers prepare what they will ask candidates. Yet so often, we find ourselves in a situation where we are completely unprepared, and our mind goes blank. We can address this by taking just a few minutes ahead of a meeting, a lunch, or gathering to prepare ourselves with a picture of the outcome we want and pick some questions that will help us get there.


Our brain, which makes up 2% of our body mass, uses 20% of our calories. It's trying its best to conserve energy, and that can lead us to fill in the blanks with assumptions. If we've been in an industry for 20 years, we can assume that when we see something happen that we know why it happened. And maybe 80% of the time, we're right. The challenge is, when our brain is on auto-pilot – we miss opportunities, so we see changes, outliers, and new opportunities. This is why having new experiences helps to keep our minds fresh and why bringing new people into our organizations is helpful. Whether they are proofreading a document for us or consulting with our company – the new perspective can see the details our brain has filled in.

Instinctive Elaboration

This is the compulsion our mind has to answer when asked. A friend calls you up and explains that they've been offered a new job at a different company. They ask us, "Do you think I should take it?" This is a moment when our instinct is to answer the question. And that question has been framed as a yes or no answer. The only way to combat this instinct is through awareness and restraint. By being aware we not only don't have enough information but ultimately it's not a decision we can even make – we can then shift into a mode of asking questions that will be helpful in their decision-making process.

So there you have them – five hurdles that may hold us back from asking a better question or – asking questions better. Environmental Conditioning, Natural Disposition, Poor Preparation, Assumptions, and Instinctive Elaboration. Each of these can be overcome through our awareness and attention over time.

My Assignment for you is to reflect on which of these you have to attend to as you develop your question skills.

In our next episode, we'll discuss the power of purpose in guiding our questions.

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Written by

Dean Heffta

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