In training to be a journalist, the first lesson I learned was how to ask the right questions so you can get meaningful answers. Researchers also understand this. From the laboratory to the field, starting with a clear question is critical to reaching a useful answer.
The other half of this equation is to create space and to be fully present for the answer. Being present means showing up, undistracted, with curiosity, generosity and openness.
“Sometimes asking the right question is better than getting the right answer.”
There are volumes of books and articles on how to articulate powerful questions and create the right conditions for conversation in professional environments. Many of these tools can also apply to your internal, personal questions. If you are at a crossroads in your personal life, and are unclear about the next steps, or if you feel stuck and are not sure how to move forward, these techniques can help you craft a question for inner reflection.
Make it simple. A good question is simple, clear and penetrating. It is an invitation to explore deeper, but in a focused way.
Be open-ended. An open question invites conversation or reflection. A closed question, one with a “yes-no” or one-sentence response, stops contemplation dead in its tracks.
Go big. An energizing question engages your values, hopes and ideals. It opens a space for deeper consideration.
Focus on possibility. While we don’t want to avoid discomfort or dismiss a problem, sometimes reframing a question from addressing a challenge to envisioning a possibility can induce more creative thinking.
Be patient with silence. Answers are shy whispers. They are introverts. They need to know it’s safe to come out. Fear is loud and boisterous and likes to cause distractions. Don’t be tempted to fill the silent void. Instead, sit with the question in silence and see what comes up.
A good question is both answerable and challenging.
This process of asking the internal question is based on the belief that you have within you the wisdom and creativity to confront even the biggest challenges, and the answers are available to us if we give them the time and space to emerge.
You may not find a complete answer on your own, and I would encourage taking the conversation into your own circle or community. Starting with the internal question, however, may help you set a compass point or general direction.
Designing Effective Questions (Stanford University)
How to Ask Better Questions (Harvard Business Review)