Tip: Ask Better Questions

This tip comes from Daniel Pink from his book “To Sell is Human”. I read this highly recommended book to help with growing my consulting practice. Several places in the book Daniel points out the benefits of an interrogative approach, simple questions. The right question gets your client, student, prospect or even yourself to dust off the cobwebs and engage with the problem at hand with a fresh look.

In one example, Daniel presents how cajoling a reluctant teen to study more for an up coming exam or asking the simple question “why?” can set the teen’s mind to justifying their current behavior. Asking these two, seemingly irrational question can bring a new outlook: Question 1) Rate your preparation for the exam from 1 to 10. Question 2) Why didn’t you rate yourself lower? These questions actually gets the teen to start to think about how much work they have already put into the exam, and they will come up with their own reasons to study more. More details at Move People With Two Irrational Questions by Daniel Pink.

I recently had the opportunity to ask a bump challenged student to rate themselves in the bumps; they said they were a 3, I then asked why not lower? This led to a great discussion on their understanding of proper balance and tactical choices. We started the lesson by building on past accomplishments and a list of their skills to bring to the lesson instead of a more negative list of past failures and fears.

Find Better Questions

The first question often asked when meeting someone new is “What do you do?”. Which might work ok for a business networking event, but it sometimes gets a cold response on the ski hill. The client may not like their work or want to get away from their job while on holiday. Ask around find out what your fellow instructors use as opening get to know you type questions. One I like is “What keeps you busy?” This allows the client to respond with a work or recreational answer.

There are lots of sources for questions. Daniel presents the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from the folks at rightquestion.org. It is their belief that teaching educators and students to ask better questions can improve our educational system and build a stronger democracy. Our ambitions might not be so high, but taking the time to develop better questions will improve your student’s engagement, leading to more returns and private requests.


Just as with any other tool in your teaching quiver, take time to improve the questions you ask. Then listen to your student’s answers.

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