“How am I to get in?” asked Alice again, in a louder tone.
“Are you to get in at all?” said the Footman, “That’s the first question, you know.”
[from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland]
Do you stop to think if you are asking the right question?
In the rush to take decisions and to be seen to be acting, we often don’t pay enough attention to the questions that we are being asked to think about and decide on. Nor about the questions we put to others.
Here are a few things to think about in asking the right questions.
First, the way we phrase a question can easily reveal the prejudices or presuppositions that lie behind them. Everyone knows the classic: “Are you still beating your wife?” This is just an old and somewhat extreme example of a question which is based on prior assumptions, that assumes (or begs) other questions have already been answered.
“What restructuring of the team is needed to improve the focus on patient experience?”
“How can we protect our outpatient income if community services are re-contracted?”
“When should we start the freeze on new posts?”
All of these questions are also based on critical premises (that restructuring is an effective way of improving patient experience, that it’s appropriate to ‘protect’ outpatient income and that a freeze on new posts is the right thing to do taking a long-term as well as short-term view).
So, it’s worth testing the assumptions that lie behind the questions — especially if it is something that could lead to critical decisions.
Even with more mundane things at a personal and team level, it’s worth checking the assumptions that are being made. “Can you prepare me some slides to present the staff survey findings?” assumes that slides are the best way to influence the audience in question. Maybe a more open request (“What would be the best way to get across the key results of the survey?”) would allow your team to be more imaginative and effective in helping you put your message.
Why not pause for 30 seconds now — what are the assumptions behind the questions you and your colleagues are working on right now? Which of these needed to be tested or challenged? Which assumptions limit the scope of your creativity?
Question the question.