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Ask Better Questions

Published 11/1/2019

We've talked a lot about questions on this show. Questions are a powerful tool for developers and our collaboration. In today's episode, we're talking about questions as they lay the path to where our conversations lead us. How can we ask better questions?

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What do your questions create? It seems like a strange question initially, but every question that we ask as developers, as managers has an effect on the people that we're asking. It may seem like we are querying other people for information, but the truth is we are adding to the conversation, perhaps even more than if we weren't asking a question in the first place. In today's episode, we're going to talk about asking better questions, how to shift our questions from the way that we normally might intuitively ask a question to a new way and how that might change the dynamic of the conversation. My name is Jonathan Cutrellly, and I'm listening to Developer Tea, my goal in the show is to help join developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. We've talked about questions a lot on this show. Questions are an incredibly powerful tool that we have as developers, as managers, as co-workers, just as people. And as we've mentioned in previous episodes, questions are so powerful because our brains kind of think about questions as a different type of communication. And perhaps this is because we have evolved to be collaborative animals. When one person asks you a question, your instincts might kick in to collaborate with that person by answering it. In many ways, questions kind of take over our minds when they're asked. As many of you who have listened for a long time to the show may recognize that we start almost every episode with a question. But it's easy to believe that questions are self-centered, that me asking a question doesn't really have any external effects, that the information that I'm looking for is just kind of regurgitated to me as if I was, like we said in the intro, querying a database for that information. But the truth of the matter is that our questions are creating something. We are contributing to culture, to atmosphere, to emotion, to mood. And when we ask questions, in many ways, we are laying the path for where the conversation is going to go, where the communication amongst those team members might go, what we're going to do next. A lot of that trajectory is determined when we ask questions. So how can you ask better questions? And perhaps a better way to frame this is how can you ask questions that create something better than what you are creating with the questions you're already asking? We're going to talk about that right after we talk about today's sponsor. Today's episode is sponsored by Vetterie. For those of you who are looking for a job, let me first say, that is a very hard thing to do. Finding your next career move is one of the most critical decisions you can make and you're not alone in this. There are other people like you who are not sure what step to take next. Vetterie may be able to help. Vetterie is an online hiring marketplace that is changing the way that people hire and get hired. Access to Vetterie is exclusive and once you're live on the marketplace, top employers can view your profile and extend interview requests via email. Vetterie is also only specializing in the tech space. So it's not going to be every job from every company and half of them are not even relevant to your skills. You can set preferences for your desired location, the top skills that align with yours, your years of experience, professional background required for the job and salary requirements so that you receive interview requests only for roles that match exactly what you're looking for. Vetterie has partnered with over 20,000 companies from innovative startups to Fortune 500 firms across the United States, Canada and the UK and of course, as you would expect, Vetterie is free to join. Head over to Vetterie.com slash Developer Tea and you'll get $300 worth of a bonus if you end up accepting a job through Vetterie. Following that link also helps out the show, once again, it's Vetterie.com slash Developer Tea. Thanks again to Vetterie for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So I went to get practical with this discussion on how you can ask better questions and it starts by understanding some of the questions that you're already asking or places where maybe you're not even asking questions yet. So here's a very simple technique that you can use to convert maybe an affirmative statement that you have, maybe you are stating what you believe to be true, for example, to convert that into a better question. So you might say that, well, X is true, right? X is true. How do you convert X is true to a good question? Well, first, start by asking the question, is X true? This prompts the other person who you're talking to, to respond to you, but there's an even better way to form a question like this. When you form your question with some kind of statement buried in it, right, is X true? Well now you're having to directly affirm or deny that X is true. And what you'll notice is that these kind of lazy questions are actually typically yes and no questions. What you really want to do with this type of question is try to convert it to a non-binary question, try to remove the yes and no questions. So let's use a practical example. Let's say that you believe you already have kind of a preconceived notion that the website that you run where you're selling widgets is too slow and that is causing your company, your widget company to lose sales. So the affirmative statement might be the website is causing us to lose sales because it's too slow. So now let's try to convert this belief statement into a question statement that draws out more information and participation from the people that we're asking. So the first step is once again, are we losing sales because the website is too slow? Now there's an interesting kind of shape that this question takes. The first part being we are losing sales. This is one assumption. And then the second part is the cause for that one assumption. We are losing sales because the website is slow. If we deconstruct this, we can back up and get better information and explore the subject together. So a good question might be how are our sales doing? This question carries no labels, it carries no statements. It simply asks for input. Now, let's imagine that the person that we're talking to, they respond by saying, well, our sales are not doing as well as we had expected. We know the data is showing us that we're missing out on sales that previously we were getting. There are multiple ways to follow up on this kind of statement, right? Of course, we want to understand the cause, but more importantly, we also want to move forward. We want to address it. We want to somehow fix whatever this problem is. And so there are multiple questions that will take you down any of those paths. One of the first questions you might ask is quite simply, why? Why are our sales not doing as well as we had expected? And it may be the case that your initial assumptions about the reasoning, the causation for this are incomplete. Maybe they're uninformed or perhaps you're exactly right. But by asking the question, you're not constraining the conversation, you're not building in assumptions in the conversation. You're allowing the conversation to stay open and collaborative. So the question of why is kind of a retrospective question. You're looking back and trying to understand what happened in the past. Now let's look forward into the future. How? How might we go about fixing this problem? Now there are other implications to the types of questions that you might ask. Of course, you might notice that we're focusing on this operative term in the question, the who, what, when, where, why, and how. These change the dynamic of the conversation. For example, if you ask the question, well, whose fault is this? This is a who question. It totally changes the dynamic of the situation. So imagine asking a different type of question, fundamentally changing from, for example, who to why? Another question that might seem restrictive is when will we get this fixed? A better question might be how will we get this fixed? Other questions that are incredibly helpful, especially for people like managers, are questions that reflect the opportunity to share an opinion back to the person who is standing in front of you. So a very simple way to do this is to ask the question, what do you think? What do you think is going to make this situation better? What do you think we should do? What do you think the future for this person looks like? These are questions that empower the person to share what they truly believe rather than simply regurgitating facts or acting as a backboard to your ideas. At the end of the day, asking better questions means shifting your mindset from controlling the situation to empowering others to collaborate around that situation. From making assumptions to challenging assumptions, from restricting other people to providing permission to other people. And while this is true, whenever we're using other language, once again, the questions that we ask direct our conversations, they direct our relationships, and they have a profound impact on the way that we work with other people. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. A huge thank you to today's sponsor, VeteriHead over to Veteri.com slash Developer Tea to get started today. If you thought today's episode was interesting, valuable in any way, encourage you to do two things. Number one, share with a person that you think would be particularly interested in this discussion about questions. And number two, go ahead and subscribe in whatever podcasting app you're currently using. This is the best way to make sure you don't miss out on future episodes that might be just as valuable to you as this one was. The huge thank you to today's producer, Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.