The Quest: Cultivating & Constructing Questions

“Question everything.” –Albert Einstein

Normally I am not one to argue with Albert Einstein. However, I would like to suggest that HOW we choose to question things is as important as what we are questioning. According to Marilee Adams, author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life (Berrett – Koehler Publishers, 2015) there are “Judger” questions and “Learner” questions. The right questions can, “open our minds, our eyes, and our hearts. With our questions we learn, connect and create. We are smarter, more productive, and able to get better results. We shift our orientation from fixed options and easy answers to curiosity, thoughtful questions, and open-minded conversations, lighting the way to collaboration, exploration, discovery and innovation.” Questions which are intended to shame, insult, or minimize another are neither useful nor productive. Although lazily disguised with a question mark at the end, the intent of the question being asked is usually easily understood based on the relationship between the messenger and listener.


Messenger as Typical Judger “What were you thinking?” “How could you make that mistake?” “What is wrong with you?” “Who do you think you are?”

Messenger as Thoughtful Listener “Can you help me understand your thought process? “Any idea why the error occurred?” “You seem to be struggling, may I be of any assistance?” “Can you explain your role in this process?”

Below is a list of questions which are intended to encourage a listener mindset rather than a judger mindset:

Questions for Myself

1. Why am I asking this question?

2. What are reasonable expectations and outcomes?

3. Am I willing to compromise?

4. What are my alternatives?

5. What would be helpful to hear from my colleague?

6. Am I putting too much pressure on myself? On my colleague?

7. What is the worst case scenario?

8. Will this question assist or harm the situation?

Questions for Clarity

1. Can you help me understand how you came to that decision?

2. Can you provide some additional information?

3. I’m having a hard time appreciating your choices, can you share with me your thought process?

4. May I ask some follow up questions?

5. Is there anything I am missing regarding this situation?

Questions for Giving Feedback

1. What is my purpose in sharing this information?

2. Why would this person want to receive this feedback?

3. How can I try to make this a productive conversation rather than a difficult or shaming experience?

4. Do I want this feedback to be a gift or a punishment?

5. How do I like to receive feedback?

Questions for Receiving Feedback

1. What might the benefit be in receiving feedback?

2. How do I normally experience negative feedback?

3. Am I able to hear the positive feedback rather than just focusing on the negative?

4. What is getting in the way of reaching my full potential?

5. What is my role in this exercise?

6. How can I make it more effective and worthwhile?

Please remember with any question the tone, relationship, intent and potential impact are also important components to consider if your goal is to ask as a listener. Finally, ask yourself if the timing is appropriate and whether the question needs to be asked at all (especially if you are highly emotional). It never hurts to pause before asking; sometimes giving ourselves 24 hours to calm down if necessary and thoughtfully consider our next steps is a good idea.

By: Melissa Connell, Director, Ombuds Office, University of Colorado Denver|Anschutz Medical Campus


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