Why don’t people ask “why?” more often? How might we ask better questions in a way that’s more effective? When one of my coaching clients complains about things at work, I always ask if they’ve approached their manager about it. And I inquire what kinds of questions they’ve asked to understand the situation better. Often a poorly phrased question makes things worse.

Sometimes people don’t know how to ask effective questions. Employees wonder, but they don’t ask “Why?” They hang back and let opportunities slide, waiting for someone else to speak up.

Educators and learning experts suggest that our current school system doesn’t encourage, teach or — in worst cases — even tolerate questioning. Questions are designed to test students’ knowledge of the “right answers.” What is obvious is that our education hasn’t adapted to the modern economy’s need for more creative independent-thinking knowledge workers.

What would it look like if we taught students to question things more? And what if we made “being wrong” less threatening? What if we inspired interest in not just what we know, but in what we don‘t know?

It’s not only our schools who discourage inquiry. Culture also plays a big part, especially for minorities. Harvard Innovation Professor Clayton Christensen agrees:

“If all you do as you’re growing up is watch stuff on a screen — to go to school where they give you the answers — then you don’t develop the instinct for asking questions. They (students) don’t know how to ask because it’s never been asked of them.”

In my recent posts about inquiry and questioning, I hope I’ve raised some good points about asking questions at work. I hope you’re thinking about how you can start asking better questions of your coworkers, your supervisor and your leadership team.

How Might We…?

One of the best questions I’ve learned from Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question, is something consultant Min Basadur calls the HMW (“How might we…?) As Basadur explains, “People may start out asking, ‘How can we do this?’ or ‘How should we do that?’ But as soon as you start using words like can and should, you’re implying judgment: Can we really do it? And should we?”

By substituting the word might, he says you defer judgment and help people to create options more freely. Basadur is a creativity expert who has been asking “how might we?” for 40 years.

What questions might you be asking in your situation? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.