Like me, you may have been taught – sometimes explicitly, sometimes more subtly – that questions are annoying. And for many people, they are. They show us what’s unresolved and incomplete in our knowledge. They show us where we’ve failed to think things through. People take that personally.
There’s probably nowhere this is more true than in school. I remember getting the impression that I was probably annoying my friends and teachers in high school with the questions I asked in class – particularly the ones that challenged the premises of conclusions faculty held to be true.
This may have caused me some grief (and I’m sure I could be annoying at times), but I’ve come to be glad of my knack for interviewing/interrogating people.
Questions play a different role in the “real world.” If you’ve ever attended a conference or a business meeting, you’ll find that people will actually thank you for asking good questions. Have you ever been in a Q&A session with a dead-silent audience? Whether it’s due to a lack of curiosity or the negative training we get in school, it seems like people are afraid to ask questions. When someone finally has the will to raise a question, everyone is relieved (especially the speaker).
Questions aren’t just valuable in lecture halls, meetings, and public forums, though. I’ve found that the best people I’ve met appreciate really hard questions in personal conversation. What makes you come alive? What’s your biggest irrational fear? What do you need to accomplish that goal? What is your value proposition?
These are questions that people will appreciate. These are questions that clarify thoughts and prompt new ones.
Valuable questions aren’t anomalies – they’re the norm, though our experiences for much of our early lives might tell us otherwise. We’re used to thinking that only answers and conclusions can point us toward truths and useful ways of living. The truth is that finding problems, asking questions, and pointing out contradictions can create just as much value.
You don’t have to have the answers. You just have to have the curiosity. Start being entrepreneurial with your questions – you might be surprised at what you can create.