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One Great Question is Worth More Than a Hundred Answers

One Great Question is Worth More Than a Hundred Answers

A great question can change the world. Questions like the one Einstein asked himself, “What would you see if you were traveling on a beam of light?” In The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, Kevin Kelly writes, “Questioning is more powerful than answering.” He discusses how the technologies that generate questions will be more valued in the future than the technologies that generate answers. He comments,

“At the end of the day, a world of super smart ubiquitous answers encourage a quest for the perfect question. What makes a perfect question? Ironically, the best questions are not questions that lead to answers, because answers are on their way to becoming cheap and plentiful. A good question is worth a million good answers.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Kelly. So, what makes a great question? Let’s look at a list from Kelly.

Good questions are not concerned with a correct answer

For each discussion, I created metaphors to further our understanding of what makes a good question.

Metaphor: Answers are buried deep within our mind. While we might not find the right answer we are looking for, we will find better questions the deeper we dig.

Metaphor: Our mind is like a large building with a long winding corridor, where the corridor is like a series of questions within our mind. Each room along the corridor serves as a gap between our thoughts and questions. Where each room possesses either an answer or another question.

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A good question cannot be answered immediately

“Over time, the cloud, the machine, or AI will learn to articulate what is known and not known. While the answer machine can expand answers infinitely, our time to form the next question is very limited.” – Kevin Kelly

Metaphor: Unknown answers are like trees planted in our mind, where ideas are the branches and questions are the seeds of growth. The better the seed, the increased likelihood of ideas branching off one another.

Metaphor: Just as trees require time for growth, so do great questions. Yet, you must first plant the seed.

A good question challenges existing answers

Metaphor: A great question is like a rock, where existing answers are like a glass window. Innovation and new answers emerge by shattering the glass window with a rock.

Metaphor: An existing answer is like religion, where a great question is challenging the existing answer. We must challenge our current view of religion in order to seek an undivided answer.

A good question is one you badly want answered after you hear it, yet previously did not care

Metaphor: A great question is like following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole, where the question is the hole itself. You had no previous awareness of the existence of the hole, yet the further you fall, the greater your desire for an answer.

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Metaphor: Imagine seeing a door all your life, yet you have never opened the door because it lacked a door knob. A great question is like a door knob appearing out of thin air. By opening the door, you are made aware of an entirely new reality. You notice yet another door as you walk through it. However, it also lacks a door knob.

A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario

Metaphor: Life is like space, where we do not know exactly what is out there. Probing what-if questions are like a shuttle that carries us further into the unknown.

Metaphor: A great question is like an ocean. An ocean has a deepest part. Therefore, a question has a deepest part.

A good question is one that generates many other good questions

Metaphor: A great question is like a library full of books, where each book leads to even more great questions.

Metaphor: A great question is like the number Pi. Where Pi cannot be expressed as a common fraction (or an answer). Just as the digits of Pi can go on and on with no pattern, questions can generate a never-ending series of new questions.

A good question cannot be predicted

Metaphor: We cannot predict great questions. Just as Google cannot predict exactly what you will be doing, thinking, and feeling twenty years from now.

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Metaphor: Just as we cannot predict our next thought by asking what our next thought will be – we cannot predict great questions. If we could, they would be an answer, not a question.

A good question will be the sign of an educated mind

Metaphor: A fish swimming in clear water is like the mind of a child, where the clear water is like great questions uncluttered by answers. The mind of a child is like an educated mind.

Metaphor: A fish swimming in dirty water is like the mind of an adult, where the dirty water is like previous answers preventing questions from being asked. The adult mind is like an uneducated mind – a mind with the perception that it has all the answers.

A good question reframes its own answers

Metaphor: A great question is like the birth of a child. The birth does not reveal an answer, yet it does reveal something better… more fascinating questions.

Metaphor: A great question is like the pause between musical notes.

A good question might be the last job a machine will learn to do

“A good question is what humans are for.” – Kevin Kelly

Instead of using a metaphor here, let’s discuss a book by Douglas Adams called The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. To prevent massive spoilers, I will only use an example from Adams first book in the series.

In the book, the number 42 is revealed to be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything calculated by a gigantic supercomputer named Deep Thought. The answer was generated over a period of 7.5 million years to compute and check the answer. The computer responded that the answer seemed meaningless because the beings who instructed it never knew what the question was. The same beings then asked Deep Thought to produce the ultimate question, for which the supercomputer said it could not. However, Deep Thought said it would help design an even more powerful computer that can.

Finally, let me leave you with one last question. This is my great question and it fascinates me.

“What would you see if you could shine a light on the gap between your thoughts?” – Dr. Jamie Schwandt

Featured photo credit: unsplash via unsplash.com

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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