My PhD supervisor told me (many moons ago): “Once you know the right question, then the answer is obvious”. Of course, the real trick is to find the right questions without limiting yourself to what you already know; or think you know. Pohlman & Thomas describes a simple matrix of four types of questions to help improve your understanding “Relearning the Art of Asking Questions“:
- Clarifying questions help us better understand what has been said.
- Adjoining questions are used to explore related aspects of the problem that are ignored in the conversation.
- Funneling questions are used to dive deeper.
- Elevating questions raise broader issues and highlight the bigger picture.
Under the usual cost and schedule pressures, progress and deliverables are easier to reach through clarifying questions, but we miss the bigger, more important questions.
As one of my clients once said: “If you request a consultant to tell you the time, then they’ll grab your wrist and look at your watch”. That’s a clarifying question, so you (as a good consultant) may then ask “why?” (funneling), “how does that help you?” (elevating), and “why didn’t you look yourself?” (adjoining).