The Power of Asking the Right Question

A few weeks ago, I sat down with an old friend to catch up. He lost his job about nine months ago in a recession-induced layoff and has been unable to find another job. He’s had plenty of interviews just no offers.

Businessman Asking Himself a Question - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #17007805

Photo courtesy of ©

“What’s wrong with me?” he asked. “Why won’t someone offer me a job?” He was clearly discouraged.

I am sure he wasn’t even conscious of the question he was asking. It just bubbled up from his subconscious. But it was a good example of a bad question.

Questions are powerful tools. They can ignite hope and lead to new insights. They can also destroy hope and keep us stuck in bad assumptions.

The key is to be intentional and choose our questions well.

For example, when something bad happens, you could ask:

  • Why does this always happen to me?
  • What did I do to deserve this?
  • What’s wrong with me?

As soon as we ask these questions, our brains go to work, serving up answers. It is almost automatic. The answers have a way of reinforcing the assumptions behind the question.

For example, if you ask “What’s wrong with me?” you are assuming there IS something wrong with you. Your mind immediately begins proposing possible answers.

Maybe it’s because:

  • You’re too old.
  • You’re too young.
  • You’re inexperienced.
  • You’re overqualified.
  • You’re too assertive.
  • You’re too passive.

Whatever the question, the answers reinforce the assumption and provide an excuse for why you are not getting the results you want.

But what if you ask a different question? For example, my friend could ask:

  • What could I do to make my interviews more memorable?
  • What are the two or three attributes that make me the best possible candidate for the job?
  • How can I follow up in a way that makes it easier for the prospective employer to say “yes”?
  • How could my apparent liabilities really be an asset in this situation?

These are constructive questions. They empower and create new possibilities. They lead to action. And they will produce results.

The last question is particularly interesting. How could your apparent liabilities really be an asset in this situation?

For example, if you think you are too old, that could, in fact, be a tremendous asset. You have no doubt made a lot of mistakes and have learned from them. As a result, you have better judgment.

If you think you don’t have enough experience, that too could be a great asset. You aren’t locked into the same assumptions as more experienced candidates. It is easier for you to think “outside the box” and approach problems with a fresh perspective.

Here are four ways to ask better, more empowering questions:

  1. Become conscious of the questions you are asking yourself.
  2. Evaluate these questions: Is this a good question? If not, what’s a better one?
  3. Choose the better question. Be intentional.
  4. Write down the answers that your brain serves up. Act on these insights.

This whole process goes back to a premise I have written about many times:

If you want to change the results you are getting, you must change your thinking.

Everything—everything!—starts there.

Question: What would asking different questions make possible for you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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