The Power of a Question 

I was recently interviewed at a conference on a challenging topic regarding the role of a Principal in a Christian School. I knew the types of questions I would be asked so I had thoroughly prepared my answers ahead of time.  

What I wasn’t quite ready for was that the interviewer was Steven O’Dougherty, former politician, CEO, radio host and panel member on shows like Q and A. This guy was a pro. No sooner than I had answered my first question he dove into a series of additional questions that made me really dig deep into why I felt something or what factors led to a decision I had made. My prepared answers flew out the window and before I knew it, we were having a deeply personal conversation in front of 300 conference delegates. Ultimately, this made for a much better interview with myself and others learning a whole lot more than if I had stuck to my prepared answers. 

This experience reminded me as a teacher, parent, friend, and Principal how important and powerful questions are. 

A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article entitled: The Surprising Power of Questions states that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding. If you have young children and are going on a long car trip, you will know that this is true.   

Recently, in the car, my son asked “Dad, why is the sky blue?” I started to talk about light refractions, scattering and particles in the atmosphere in the simplest way I could for a 7-year-old to understand, but he kept asking the shortest, but most powerful questions like why and how? Questions that made me go deeper and more complex that I originally thought he could cope with but by the end I think he has a decent understanding of the Particle Theory of Matter and the Electromagnetic Spectrum. It was a great conversation with lots of learning and interpersonal bonding.    

It seems as we age, we become less interested in the openended questions that begin with why or how and are more interested in just getting the information we need with questions like what, who, and when.  We are in danger of becoming more transactional in our conversations and even resort to sending emails or text messages rather than having personal conversations because they are quicker and easier. We often lose the opportunity to learn from each other and our interpersonal relationships suffer.  

Conversations, questioning techniques and relationship building are all such powerful tools regardless of whether you are building a business, leading a team, teaching a class, or raising a family. Jesus knew this and especially knew the power of questions. 

In the bible, Jesus was asked 183 questions. I think that the people asking those questions just wanted the transaction. They wanted to know a rule or a law. They wanted content from Jesus, almost like sending him an email to get a response. Of those 183 questions, Jesus only directly answered 3, but in return he asked 307 of his own! Jesus knew that for people to learn his message, he needed to understand them first and ask them questions that challenged their thinking about the social norms of the time they were in and the rule they were under.  

The stories Jesus told and the questions he asked were so powerful that they changed the world.  

 So, let me encourage you, ask lots of questions, be inquisitive, try to understand the whys and the hows of life not just the whatswhens and whos. You will lead a life full of learning and full of people that you know and care for deeply.