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 ©iStockphoto.com/stevanovicigor, Image #17007805

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/stevanovicigor

“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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  • Anonymous

    Wow did I just have this conversation with myself this morning?  After wrestling with God in prayer… I began to write – addressing the “right questions” not until then did I find clarity and new LIFE.  I knew this because I found peace with myself and God and most importantly, the answers I was really looking for in my frustration.  In summary, my dilemma was with my leadership team of 3 and being discouraged and frustrated with them from their lack of follow through in the responsibilities they’ve been given.  In large part the problems were due to poor time management, distractions and fear or lack of commitment to the service – as a result costing the ministry in significant ways.  While I’m aware my options for good leaders are slim- they are the ones acknowledging a desire to serve (and I believe with all good intentions).  In my frustrations this morning my questions almost made me want to throw in the towel.  Then later (prayer) I realized I needed to address these issues in a more direct way (my fear/my challenge) and that while I may consider them leaders their short comings reflect their very purpose for being a part of my discipleship ministry so, the questions became – how do I utilize them to lead in ways that will not cost me (as much)? What options/alternatives are there to replace the need where they lack?  The answers began to flow like a river.  Thank you Michael!  Your words are confirming.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      I like that you added questions that focused on what you can do about the situation.  Those are almost always effective questions!

  • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

    The different questions lead to different responses. One is purely reactive and accomplishes nothing. The other is proactive and helps find solutions. The key is the discipline to stop and consider these things. Thanks, Michael.

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  • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

    As a former project manager and as one who now managers project managers, my favorite question is “How could I do this better next time?”.  I often asked this of my project team, and I encourage my team members to ask this of their project teams.

    We can learn so much by getting feedback from others.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      That’s a very effective question, Jon.   Making changes based on those answers is really important, too.  

      • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

        Of course!  Adjusting for the future is important.

  • Anonymous

    Given our rapidly shifting circumstances and chronic uncertainty today, asking the right questions is critical not only for personal development but for the building of resilience as a community. Asking the wrong questions leads to stagnation and despair. Asking the right questions leads to vibrancy and confidence. Thanks for the reminder Michael!
    http://www.jeffvankooten.com

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      True, Jeff!

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Great insight as always, Jeff.

  • Cathy Zavitz

    I can’t believe how timely this posting is for me.  I’ve just been rejected for two jobs in two days that I had interviewed for and I’ve asked myself all those “wrong” questions in the last few days.   I am printing out this blog posting just so I can keep it close by while I go through searching for full-time employment.

    • Jim Martin

      Cathy, thanks for this comment in which you communicated just how relevant this post is to your job search.  I wish you the very best as you search for employment.

  • Edwina Cowgill

    Excellent post and a great reminder for the first of the year – change our thinking to get new and better results. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, ask the right questions of ourselves and we will develop new, creative solutions.

    • Rachel Lance

      It is a timely post for this season of recalibration and setting courses straight again, isn’t it?!

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com/ Patricia Zell

    Did you notice that all of your questions can be stated (as two of them already are) or restated with the wording, “How can I…”? I think questions focused on what we can do are bent more towards succeeding than towards whining. I also think the “How can I…” questions should asked at the beginning of an endeavor, during the process of working it out, and after its completion. Life is not static, so we would do well to be dynamic in our approach to living life (and all of its endeavors) to the fullest extent.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Your comments reminded me of a lesson my dad taught me. One day, while he tried to teach me to hammer a nail to no avail, I cried, “I can’t do it!” Unwilling to let me quit, he looked me square and said with absolute confidence, “Oh, yes you can!” I may have been only 5 or 6 at the time, but it was a demarcation point in my life. Both “I can” and “I can’t” hold tremendous power.

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        Good story. How long did it take to hammer that nail?

        • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

          Way toooooo long. But I did it. :)

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      The word “can” empowers, whether I ask a question, how can …?, or make a statement, I can….

  • http://twitter.com/nitoygonzales nitoy gonzales

    love the article.super thanks.i think ill share this with our young people and young stewards fellowship…God bless you mike!

  • Anonymous

    Michael,  This is great advice.  It is thinking like this that drew me to following you.  Life is too negative as it is, so you have to be intentional about the things we allow into our mind, including our own thoughts.

    • Jim Martin

      Ron, great point.  That is a great reason alone to watch how we are framing our questions.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I couldn’t agree more. Thanks so much for commenting.

  • http://necessarymiscellany.wordpress.com/ John Herndon

    I’ve found that my wife and I are better at catching this sort of thing in the other person. 

    Our standard response when we hear the other one ask a wrong question (or express negativity in some other way) is “That’s despair, and it’s a lie”. It’s become a little like a joke, but it’s very helpful to have someone help to spot these wrong questions. 

    • Jim Martin

      John, how wonderful that you each can help one another with this.  Sometimes we don’t see in ourselves what has become a habit.

  • Loren Bruce

    Mike, thanks for the blog.  I needed the reminder.  You are right on track.  Gratefully, Loren

    • http://theordainedbarista.com Barry Hill

      Loren,
      thanks for leaving a comment and being a part of the community!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      We miss you already, Loren. Hope you can come back soon. Keep juicing!

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  • Soumangue Basse

    The author Noah St. John of The Secret Code of Success talked about how important it is to ask ourselves empowering questions daily.  He called them AFFORMATIONS.  I’ve been using Afformations for over a year and it has helped me tremendously.  

  • http://twitter.com/kirkweisler Kirk Weisler

    yes another amazing and actionable post by Team Hyatt.  THANKS MIKE.  The most wonderful and helpful book on this exact principle has to be QBQ by John Miller.  The Question Behind the Question…. taking ownership for your results and your life by asking the right question.  READ It, LEARN It, LIVE It, LOVE It

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      Kirk, thanks for steering us toward another, more extended resource on changing our thought patterns.

  • http://www.davidjlilly.com/ David Lilly

    By asking different questions I will give myself the opportunity to find different answers, thus step out of old habits and begin to see things in a different light.  This will enable me to move forward with a different view of what in front of me.

    I’m very lucky because my partner (Krish Surroy) always knows how to help me do just this. Thanks to him I have learned to stop and think before heading down the same path again and again.  I don’t always do it but I’m getting better at it all the time.

  • http://colebradburn.com/ Cole Bradburn

    The quality of you life is determined by the quality of questions you ask.  We all can learn to ask better questions.

  • Christine Pietryla

    Michael, such a great post! I think it’s easy to fall into these internal dialogue traps and awareness is the first step to shutting them down. 

  • Tim Blankenship

    Agreed! It’s so difficult to see objectively when you are involved emotionally. Asking better questions is another way to put away some of the emotion to get a better look at what is actually going on.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    It is a matter of perspective Mike! Better questions always take us in the right direction rather than getting sidetracked in the midcourse. Also, better question helps us maintain an atmosphere of positivity in spite of all unfortunate things happening around us.

  • http://tangoleadership.wordpress.com/ PoulAndreassen

    There are certain
    things you do not realize until you read them, and through your article I have
    come to realize those few but interesting and effective I like Become conscious,
    Be intentional” If you want to change the results you are
    getting, you must change your thinking.”Which is the fact.

    Thanks once again!!

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    In my most recent post, “What Does The Bible Say About Wearing Red Shirts?”, I touch on the red-shirt syndrome (Star Trek fans recognize this from the original show) which deals with how we view ourselves and others. Thanks for offering some specific steps in rethinking who we are and what we do.

    http://tnealtarver.com/2012/01/20/what-does-the-bible-say-about-wearing-red-shirts/

  • Justin Foster

    Certainly a great post on a relevant topic as many people are battling a scarce job market. The questions we pose to ourselves goes beyond interviews as we all know. So much richness to digest in this one from questions to deeply held beliefs about ourselves to self-regulating our thoughts to be more effective, productive and optimistic. These are some of the things I teach to my clients among others to enhance performance in there chosen arena. Developing awareness of our thoughts, reactions and emotional changes can tell us a lot about how we are coping and performing in a situation. I encourage people to identify their counterproductive thoughts (or questions), pause and shift gears if the results (stress, emotions, actions) arent up to par (ie. “be intentional”). Practicing to proficiency at this process can change your behavior, your leadership, your relationships and even your health. Take control and remember that Jesus loves you. That always helps me. – Sorry for the length, it’s my first time.

  • Roshan rangari

    Excellent Article and very Motivational too. True such articles has the power to change human thinking. Thanks You Michael Hyatt!!

  • Jhaynam

    Very interesting. But why not just start your own company? These people did http://www.entrepreneur-stories.com

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  • Stephanie

    All the things that I’ve spent so much time believing were not possible!

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  • http://twitter.com/PediatricInc Brandon Betancourt

    When bad things happen and I want to ask myself “why does this happen to me?” I try to turn it around and ask the question differently. For example, I’ll ask, “why not me?”

    Framing the question differently helps me understand that I’m not so special as to be exempt from problems, bad circumstances or bad luck.  Thus, like a game of poker, where one doesn’t get to dictate what cards one will get, I have to find the best way to play my hand. 

    Now, I’m not suggesting I always have it under control. I get mad and frustrated all the time. But by turning it around, it makes me see things differently. 

  • Bob Tiede

    In his book “QBQ–the Question behind the Question” John Miller suggests three simple guidelines for
    creating better questions:
    1.      1.  Begin with
    “What” or “How” (not “Why,” “When,” or “Who”).

    2.      2.  Contain an “I”
    (not “they,” “them,” “we,” or “you”).

    3.      3.  Focus on action.

    • http://twitter.com/QBQGuy John G. Miller

      Bob, thanks so much for chiming in about the QBQ! book! Honored! Good to have QBQ! believers out there. Hope all is well in Texas!

  • Bob Tiede

    “You
    can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.  You can tell whether a man is wise by his
    questions.”

      Naguib Mahfouz

  • http://twitter.com/QBQGuy John G. Miller

    Michael, allow me to humbly recommend a book that covers this concept that you posted so well about: QBQ! The Question Behind the Question. It’s all about personal accountability, ownership – and asking better questions of ourselves. And yes, I wrote it. :-)

  • http://bluecapra.com/ Alan Reeves

    Great post.  At times, I think we all get caught up in negative thinking and tend to focus on what is not productive.  Answering the right questions is really the key to change our perspective.  When faced with a problem, I try to use a technique called Brainsteering (there is a book by the same name) which focus effort by asking specific questions.  Realizing how important the questions are to the answer is very eye opening.  Thanks

  • http://www.leadershipconnexion.com/ Stephan De Villiers

    In “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale, one of the most memorable lessons he teaches is that: “It is not the facts that matter, it is your attitude towards the facts that matter”.  The same is true about your post: “It is not the questions that you ask, but the outcome the questions generate that is important.”
    Thought provoking post. Thank you.

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  • Jan

    I found this post very helpful. I sometimes find myself asking similar questions and realized that the way I answer them has to change…into a more positive note.

  • Rashaan Mateen

    I always go back in forth with these types of questions. The questions I ask depend on my mood. Which needs to be consistently good questions to keep the mood positive. Love this blog

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  • piggy

    I could be a millionaire. :-)

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