Episode 22 Formulating Good Questions

February 20, 2023

I received a message yesterday from a friend who is an interim CEO in a very large, complex nonprofit in the education arena. Her message read The Board would like me to stay on for a couple more years. When I read her message, to be honest, the alarm bells went off for me. Red flags. Negative thoughts. You get the idea. The old me would have immediately sent a message of concern. I would’ve told her what I thought right away without stopping myself. And even though my intentions and words would’ve been coming from a place of care and love and concern, I would’ve told her what I thought without having been asked my opinion.

I cringe when I think of it because I am quick to offer my opinion and it’s taken a lot of work to slow that down and hopefully think before I speak or ask permission. I may have been the negative questioner saying something about salary, or even worse saying, are you sure? Are you sure? But I stopped myself this time. I was able to formulate a response which showed curiosity and asked her what her thoughts were without expressing my own.  She’s an adult. She’s thoughtful, and I think what she needs most is space to reflect.

This morning I just so happened to stumble upon a list of questions that I captured. I think they came from the book, the Coaching Habit, by Michael Stanier. I thought I’d share a couple of them here.  The first one is, what do you want? I thought that was interesting because in my friend’s case, it’s the Board that wants her to stay on, and that’s a really good question. What do you want? It helps you gain clarity, brings the locus of control back to you and helps improve your decision making and the way you think through an opportunity. The other question is the one that I sent to her, which I thought was really relevant here which is this. If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?  For me, this question has two important angles. In the case of my friend, I think it’s about opportunity cost, and hopefully it will make her wonder about what else she could do with her time and career if she were to say no.  It’s also a question that gets a person to consider if they’re truly prepared to commit, or rather if they’re jumping in half-heartedly.

But back to the opportunity cost piece of it. If you’re saying yes to something, what are you saying no to could be relevant when you’re thinking about travel. It could be relevant when you’re thinking about going out to dinner with friends. I think it’s a great clarity question when you have that nagging little thought of, do I really want to do this or am I saying yes when I really mean to say no?

I’ve always been someone who captures questions.  I think questions are a catalyst for curiosity.  I love a good question. especially since I have been unlearning this propensity to be a quick decision maker and to push and to make things happen.  Questions help you to slow down, to wonder, to noodle things and to create time and space for answers to appear and to reveal themselves. One of the people I hope will come and talk to me for Dear Constance is Steven Morris. He’s done a lot of work with the poet and philosopher David Whyte, and he talks about beautiful questions.

Beautiful questions are questions that can’t be answered with a strategic mind. The poet Rilke calls these lived questions. They reorient your trajectory. Gay Hendrix, the author of ‘The Big Leap’ calls them wonder questions, and he talks about starting the question with Hmmm because humming integrates the right and the left hemispheres of the mind and takes you out of the purely intellectual sphere into the realm of the mind, body, spirit, more integrated framework.

Anyway, I got off track here a little bit but I think what I want to say is there are lots of questions you can ask that are probing and strategic and helpful when you’re able to stop yourself from the negative question. Basically the negative question is a projection of your thoughts and revealing too much about what you think instead of showing curiosity. That’s the generous and loving thing that I think we all want to do.  I’ll leave it at that. That’s all for now.  Until next time, from my heart to yours.

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dear Listeners,

Friends say I live my life out loud. That’s because I’m a curious, adventurous person and, as an appreciator, I simply love to share what lights me up. Consider this is your invitation into my fun, multi-faceted world.

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