Quote of the Week – It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. James Thurber
James Thurber was a writer, playwright and cartoonist who lived from 1894-1961.
While I like Thurber’s quote, it needs to be put in context. There certainly are times when “knowing all the answers” serves someone well! For example, one of my college coaching clients is preparing for a sociology test this week. The test format is multiple choice. His goal is “to know all the answers!”
Thurber isn’t referring to knowing answers for a college exam! I think he is referring to people who take great pride in showing off how much they know – on almost all occasions! These are people who give answers at times in which asking questions would be more productive.
In last week’s post, I explored the importance of “involving others” to increase commitment to an action plan. Managers who “know all the answers” are unlikely to get maximum commitment from their work teams.
When you are in a social setting, are you usually fascinated when someone knows a lot of facts about politics, sports, or other interesting things? Yet, I bet you quickly lose patience if that person dominates the conversation and doesn’t make an effort to include you and others in the discussion.
“Knowing some of the questions” implies that you are willing to explore problems and opportunities by asking questions that engage others. It shows that you have a genuine interest in learning about other people, rather than keeping the focus on yourself.
In her book, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams introduced the idea of “Question Thinking.” She teaches that a world of questions is a world of possibilities. When we are vibrant with the spirit of inquiry, our minds are open, we are connected to others, and we shake our outmoded paradigms. Our headset changes from answers and opinions to questions and curiosity.
Questions usually work best when they are open-ended and often start with “What” or “How.” “Open Questions” create engagement. “Closed Questions” can be answered “yes” or “no” or do not invite a variety of responses. For example, “Did your presentation go well this morning?” could create a simple “yes” or “no” answer. However, “How did your presentation go this morning?” could result in a variety of answers. Some people may give a short answer (e.g., “OK” or “fine”). Yet, the question itself “invites” more than a one-word response. The question invites engagement and relationship.
Questions for Reflection:
- Do you know people who have a distinct pattern of always “having the answer”? How does that affect the way you view them?
- Do you feel that you are known more for “knowing some of the questions” or “knowing all the answers?”
- How are your skills in asking “open questions?”
- Do you feel that you get rewarded more for “asking good questions” or for “having lots of answers?”