Dan Erwin: Questioning

What Makes a Question a Good Question?

Not all questions are created equal. Some questions are a lot more useful than others. So, what’s the difference?

The least used and one of the most productive tools for conversation is high-level questioning. But for a number of reasons, questioning has always gotten short shrift. Traditionally, asking questions is thought of as revealing your incompetence, which is then rewarded with a loss of influence. Even today, when the need ought to be obvious, few actually get questioning. Neither yesterday’s traditionalist nor today’s knowledge worker understands that questioning is a linguistic device that can make great contributions to the organization—and grant profound influence and power to the individual.


All questions are speech actions that affect the way individuals and teams organize their thinking about people, problems, and processes. The better questions can often positively impact personal influence, relationships, team focus, team organization, strategies, priorities, motivation, and decision making. In short, higher order questions can have a huge role in shaping both our thought and our behavior.

Not all questions are created equal. John Hagel has written that the greatest value and personal power in today’s environment comes from questions that no one had even thought to ask but that help to focus attention on promising but previously ignored areas. Although those issues require more complex thinking and very thoughtful formatting, let’s begin with the basics...

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