Four Ineffective and Old Questions We Ask Ourselves and Four New Questions We Should Be Asking Instead

Marilee Adams' first book focused on the questions we should ask ourselves to move
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forward instead of remaining stuck in ruts. In her latest book, she applies the same question-based methodology to educational approaches and teaching.

Many of the difficult situations we find ourselves in can best be analyzed and overcome by stopping to assess one’s own mindset. We could be coming from either  a “Judger mindset” (close-minded and critical) or a “Learner mindset” (open-minded and discerning). Because of the natural tendency to lapse into Judger mindset, we tend to ask ourselves the same old limiting questions with the same old disappointing results. Here are some examples of common (Judger) questions and why they don’t work – and what (Learner) questions you should be asking yourself instead:

1. A Question We Normally Ask Ourselves: “Why don’t things ever seem to work out for me?”
The Question We Should Ask Instead: “What do I want—for both myself and others?”
We often neglect thinking about what we want in a particular situation or just thoughtlessly jump into action. Nevertheless, continuously asking oneself about goals and intentions is the “true north” of effective behaviors and satisfying outcomes. Otherwise, we’re primed to get what we don’t want!  Of course, thinking about others as well as ourselves makes the win-win difference.

2. A Question We Normally Ask Ourselves: “Why isn’t that person responding to me the way I wanted them to?”
The Question We Should Ask Instead: “Am I in Learner mindset or Judger mindset right now?
People often don’t recognize the impact of their own mindset on others and end up wondering why they don’t get the responses they wanted. Learning to simply notice your own mindset in a neutral, non-judgmental way, moment by moment, is the basis of being free to have the best communications and relationships as well as to make the most effective choices. If you discover you’re in Judger mindset, you can choose to switch to Learner instead. To learn about the power of mindsets, click here for a free online tool that includes a video, interviews and an informational PDF. 

3. A Question We Normally Ask Ourselves: “Why won’t this rude person listen to me?”
The Question We Should Ask Instead: “Am I listening with Learner ears or Judger ears?”
People often don’t understand why others don’t listen to them. Yet we seldom question whether we’re listening ourselves or even how we’re listening. The ability to identify which mindset we are listening from helps us identify and alter our listening so that communication can be more productive and satisfying for everyone. If you notice you’re feeling either defensive or angry, you may be listening with Judger ears.

4. A Question We Normally Ask Ourselves: “How can I prove I’m right?”
The Question We Should Ask Instead: “What assumptions am I making?”
Our aim is often to prove ourselves right or even to prove the other person wrong. Sadly, we’re all familiar with what happens when someone is on such a mission—self-righteousness, oppositional stalemates, anger, and conflict. Continually questioning one’s assumptions is a core discipline of the most effective thinking and problem-solving. Searching for and challenging assumptions also empowers one’s ability to listen with Learner ears

5. The Question We Normally Ask Ourselves: “Who or what is stopping me from getting what I want?”
The Question We Should Ask Instead: “Who do I choose to be in this moment?"

Assuming that circumstances or other people control your life makes it all but impossible to take responsibility for oneself. Personal power begins with claiming authorship of our own lives, and that’s why, regardless of the circumstances, this fifth question is always the crucial one; it places each of us directly in the present moment as the prime mover of our own experiences, relationships and outcomes.

Four Situations Where We "Tell" Instead of "Ask"

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Ed Schein’s newest book argues that our cultural tendency to “tell” instead of “asking” gets in the way of solving problems and accomplishing tasks.  When two or more people have to work together to accomplish anything, they need to communicate openly, and that can only be achieved with trust.  To build that trust, they must ask each other genuine questions based on being interested in each other. Humble Inquiry is that form of asking.

Here are four common situations where people should be using Humble Inquiry instead of just giving advice or telling the other person what to do.

Situation 1.  The “all knowing advice giver.” A person when asked for help who automatically assumes the he or she knows what will be helpful based on assumptions about what the asker knows or has already done.

Examples: I ask an IT person for help on completing something via phone and he says, “Just hit the pound sign,” except that I haven’t a clue as to what the “pound sign” is.  I ask a friend what to do about my troubled relationship with my girlfriend and he says, “Just tell her where you stand -- be totally honest with her.” He doesn't realize that I was honest about a sensitive issue and that is what gave rise to the trouble in our relationship in the first place.

Situation 2.  The leader assuming that he or she knows enough to tell the subordinate what to do.

Examples: “Here is what I want you to try” says the boss, throwing out directions before hurrying off, not waiting to learn that subordinate has already tried what was suggested with no success.  The doctor tells the  patient to take the pills at bedtime but does not know (or bother to inquire) about the fact that the patient works different shifts and so has a variety of bedtimes.

Situation 3.  The leader who needs feedback from employees or team members but has created a climate in which they do not feel secure doing so.

Examples: This is where a selective memory can be the culprit. The boss assumes that everyone knows he is “open” to talking about anything, but he does not remember also telling his subordinates “Don't bring me a problem unless you also bring me the solution.”  The surgeon who wants his nurse and tech to speak up  all the time, but does not remember how his behavior of yelling at them in the past has made them hesitant to do so. The boss or doctor doesn't remember, but people do.

Situation 4.  Asking a question that isn’t really a question.

Example: “Don't you agree that to get our job done we all need to be open, trusting, and collaborative with each other?”  This sort of a (non)question forces the respondent to say "yes" without exploring the issues further and getting clear on what needs to happen. As a result, even though the answer is "yes," it is an answer in the abstract since no real trust or understanding has been established.