Man Raising Hand

“Why is rough paper called rough paper?”

Ng Choon Seng, Leadership Coach and Professional Facilitator of Inquiring Dialogue as well as author of What’s Your Question?: Inspiring Possibilities Through the Power of Questions posed this question to the audience at the start of his session at the SkillsFuture Festival Executive Series @ WeWork, co-organized by Emergenetics Asia Pacific and Lifelong Learning Institute.

He shared that this particular question was posed by his son one day, which not only left him dumbfounded without an answer; it also got him thinking.

It seems that as adults, many of us have lost our curiosity to ask and the courage to voice these questions. Somehow, over the years, many individuals have developed a practice of not asking questions as doing so may make us look vulnerable or unwise in front of others. Some may avoid asking questions because in our Asian culture and in some corporate environments, questioning others, especially those who are older or hold higher positions, may be regarded as rude, impolite or challenging authority.

Further, as one member of the audience shared: “With the Internet, I just ask Google all my questions!”

However, to build communication and collaboration whether at home or at the workplace, we unfortunately can’t just rely on internet search engines.

“To build communication and collaboration, we need to develop an Inquiring Mindset – a mindset that has developed the habit, curiosity and courage to ask open-minded questions of ourselves and others,” shared Choon Seng.

Developing an Inquiring Mindset

To have an inquiring mindset, we first need to develop the habit of asking questions. And to begin doing so, we have to ask ourselves what our underlying assumptions and beliefs are in asking questions.

Which of the following resonate with you?

  • Questions have more power than answers
  • Great results begin with great questions
  • Every question missed is a potential crisis waiting to happen
  • Asking questions of oneself and others is the best defense against assumptions and blind spots that compromise results
  • Asking others constructive, quality questions brings out the best thinking, partnership, action and results

By clarifying our underlying, positive beliefs about asking questions, we uncover motivations that will give us the courage to ask questions.

Building a Curious Mindset

Knowing the right questions to ask helps us make connections, build communication and strengthen collaboration. And this starts with first building a curious mindset – one that is genuinely interested in the other party.

So how can we build collaboration? We can start by asking positive questions about others. Some questions to begin with include:

  • What am I curious to know about the other party?
  • What caused them to act and think that way?
  • What do I know about the other party? What do I not know?
  • What is holding me back? How can we mitigate that? (Notice that the focus is on us, not you or me)
  • What needs to happen to make this collaboration possible?

When we find clarity in these questions, we can positively impact our relationships with others.

Mindset • Intent • Questions

While it is important to ask questions, Choon Seng also points out that it is equally, if not more crucial to be clear about our mindset, which impacts our intent, and in turn, our questions.

For example, if one has a positive mindset to collaborate, then the intent would be to work together. This in turn will influence questions that lead to collaboration (e.g. How can I help you?). However, if one develops a mindset that he or she is superior to others, then the intent would be one of power, which in turn may lead to questions that may be belittling (e.g. How is it you don’t know this?).

When asking questions, pause to be clear about your intentions and what we are trying to achieve. If we are trying to support communication and collaboration, ensure that your questions are steered in that direction.

Here are some questions you may use to guide a conversation to a positive outcome:

  • What are your concerns?
  • What are your hopes?
  • What are the options available? Which are most helpful to you?
  • What can help you decide?

As a rule of thumb, use open-ended questions to support divergent thinking and open up options. Use close-ended questions when trying to filter and limit options to come to a conclusion.

“Asking questions is not a new skill. We all knew how to ask questions when we were children because we were curious and fearless then,” Choon Seng pointed out. “But it’s not just about asking questions; it’s about asking the right questions that help us build communication and collaboration, a talent we all need to acquire in today’s connected world.”

As I reflect on Choon Seng’s last point about “asking the right questions,” I mused over the many times I have used the Emergenetics® Profile to help me identify ideal approaches, choose the most appropriate way to ask my questions based on the preferences of those I am communicating with, and in so doing, ask the “right questions.”

Sharing a quote by Dr. Marilee Adams, author of Change Your Question, Change Your Life, Choon Seng adds, “A question can be an invitation, a request or a missile.”

So, what kind of an impact do you want your question to have?


To learn how Emergenetics can help your organization create a culture where curiosity is valued, fill out the form below.

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