Questions to Build Communication and Collaboration

“Why is a 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-organised by Emergenetics Asia Pacific and Lifelong Learning Institute.

He shared that the question was posed to him by his son one day, which got him not only dumbfounded without an answer, but also thinking.

It seems that as adults, we have lost our curiosity to ask, and the courage to voice these questions. Somehow, over the years, we have developed a practice of not asking questions as doing so may make us look vulnerable or stupid in front or others. Yet, some others may avoid asking questions because in our Asian culture, 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 the 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 first have to ask ourselves what our underlying assumptions and beliefs are in asking questions.

Which of the following do you resonate with?

  • 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 defence 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 beliefs in asking questions, we clarify our motivations that 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 about the other party.

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

  • What am I curious to know about the other party?
  • What caused him 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 find clarity in our actions that 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, impacts our questions.

For example, if one has a positive mindset to collaborate, then the intent would be to collaborate. 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 more superior than others, then the intent would be one of superiority, which in turn may lead to questions that are belittling (e.g. How is it you don’t know this?).

When asking questions, pause to be clear about what our intentions are, and what we are trying to achieve. If we are trying to build communication and collaboration, ensure our 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 best 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 as they tend to lend to 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 skill 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 use the Emergenetics Profile to help me identify ideal approaches, so I may choose the most appropriate way to ask my questions, and in so doing, be able to 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 make?

This article was originally published on the SkillsFuture Festival Executive Series @ WeWork

About the Speaker
Mr Ng Choon Seng
Mr Ng Choon Seng

Leadership Coach, Professional Facilitator,
Inquiring Dialogue

Ng Choon Seng is a Leadership Coach and Professional Facilitator. He has more than 29 years of experience in human resources, organization development, coaching and facilitation.

Choon Seng is the Director of Inquiring Dialogue Pte Ltd and also a Master Action Learning Coach with the World Institute for Action Learning (WIAL) He has been running his own facilitation and coaching practice for the past 12 years. He is the author of “What’s your Question?” and also co-author of “Optimising the Power of Action Learning, 3rd Edition: Real-Time Strategies for Developing Leaders, Building Teams and Transforming Organization”

what's your question

“What’s Your Question?: Inspiring Possibilities Through The Power of Questions”

Questions have the power to inspire new possibilities in our daily lives. But most of us struggle and spend lots of time thinking about good questions to ask in different contexts. What’s Your Question? is the solution.

With 630 questions divided into 90 different categories, you will definitely find a suitable one to ask that will help you launch meaningful conversations or trigger more and better questions. For example, Courage — What is the worst thing that could happen? Patience — How can we slow down to move faster? Reframing — What could the other person be thinking? Getting Unstuck — What is preventing us from moving forward?

Treat this book as a handy resource when you are required to ask a variety of questions to challenge yourself, help others to reflect, empower your team, and develop breakthrough ideas.