Ask Small Questions… Get Big Results

People love puzzles.

Crossword puzzles. Sudoku. “Wheel of Fortune”. Mobile game apps. Videogames. You name it – people like to solve it.  The human brain loves a good challenge.

When you boil it all down – what are puzzles? Puzzles are simply questions that people react to on a conscious or sub-conscious level.

Questions trigger the imagination. Questions ignite passion. Questions can send people on exquisite mental journeys of wonder and creativity.

Most people are innately curious. They want to know about things. They seek to understand. They believe knowledge and wisdom come from curiosity.

Curiosity begins with a question – but not all questions are effective at piquing curiosity.

Sometimes, asking an elaborate or complex question can provoke fear and confusion.

Much like trying to tackle a really monumental problem, asking a big question can activate the “flight or fight” center of the brain. Being on the receiving end of one of those big questions may cause a person to deflect or dissemble.

How many of us have been asked:

  • What do you want to be doing five/ten years from now?
  • How can you double the sales for your region or territory in 6 months?
  • What is the strategic vision for your company?
  • On a personal note – How can I lose 40lbs this year?  Or make a million dollars in a year?

You get the point.  Those are some really “big” questions!

On the other hand, asking small questions may keep the brain’s emotional centers in “neutral”. Lots of little questions related to a big problem can lessen the overwhelming desire to hide or run away.

Maybe a better way to ask those big questions would be:

  • Could you describe the first 10 minutes of your typical day five years from now?
  • What is the one thing you can do now to improve the business of your most important customer?
  • What’s one thing you want people to say about your business in 5 years?
  • Personal questions – What is one small step you could take today to reduce the amount of food you eat for dinner? How could you start off by saving 10 bucks a week?

Asking small questions doesn’t mean you can’t tackle huge, ‘hairy’ problems. It just means you believe the best way to solve big problems is with one small question at a time.

Small is a good thing. It forces you to focus. Asking lots of small questions may yield better results than those multi-part or convoluted questions that are impossible to answer.

Think about it! What’s the fascination with asking long or complicated questions?

Mostly, it’s ego.

Some people think asking complex or weighty questions shows how smart they are.

It doesn’t.

Mostly it illustrates that they care more about how they sound rather than caring about your answer.

Asking great small questions is more than just putting a “?” on the end of a sentence.

There is an art to asking small questions.  They should be focused on learning… not judging, on growth… not assigning blame, and on creativity… not on limiting the imagination.

Small questions should empower. Unless you’re looking for a ‘specific’ answer (either a yes or no, or call for an answer from a limited range of options), great small questions should be “open-ended”.

Questions like the following encourage people to expand their thinking and enhance their problem-solving skills:

  • What other options do you have?
  • How else could you approach that problem?
  • What do you think about…?
  • How would our customers react to those changes?

Here are some other suggestions for asking great small questions.

Avoid jargon.

Stay away from those wonderfully obtuse and overly complicated ‘biz-speak’ questions. Forget about wanting to sound clever.

Listen.  Really listen.  Don’t interrupt.

Ask a small question. Listen to the answer. Ask another one based on the person’s answer. Listen. Ask again. Soon patterns will become apparent and big problems may seem more manageable.

So, try it.

Go small.  Go simple.

You may find that small questions will help you on your path to leadership greatness.

Chinese proverb: “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes;
he who does not, remains a fool forever.”

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