Detective Del Spooner: Is there something you want to tell me?

Dr. Alfred Lanning: I’m sorry. My responses are limited. You must ask the right questions.

Detective Del Spooner: Why did you call me?

Dr. Alfred Lanning: I trust your judgment.

Detective Del Spooner: Normally, these circumstances wouldn’t require a homicide detective.

Dr. Alfred Lanning: But then, our interactions have never been entirely normal. Wouldn’t you agree?

Detective Del Spooner: You got that right… Is there something you want to say to me?

Dr. Alfred Lanning: I’m sorry. My responses are limited. You must ask the right questions.

Detective Del Spooner: Why would you kill yourself?

Dr. Alfred Lanning: That, detective, is the right question. Program terminated.

In the movie, the hologram was only programmed to answer specific questions. This forced the detective to think through his questions carefully. As leaders, we are often in similar situations where our team can give us ground-shaking insights if we only ask them the right questions. But it can be tricky. How can we ask more and better questions? 

1) Think About What You Want To Know. 

Albert Einstien is believed to have said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” What is the purpose of your question? What are you really trying to discover? Think carefully about what you want to know. Once you have a clear objective, you can ask your team questions that target that end goal. 

2) Ask Open-Ended Questions. 

Open-ended questions are game-changers. They are the questions that force the person answering to contribute to the conversation. Questions that elicit a closed response (“Yes” or “No”) do not spark creativity. If you only ask questions that validate your opinion or idea, you are missing out on some visionary answers. If you want a team of “Yes Men” who support all your thoughts, then ask closed questions. But if you want a vibrant team that can come up with out-of-the-box solutions, ask open-ended questions. 

3) Give People An Opportunity To Go Beyond Your Ideas.

“Is there anything else you can think of that might help?” “What am I missing?” “What else do you think might be causing this issue?” These types of questions are gold for multiple reasons. 

1) They recognize the expertise of others. 
2) They acknowledge that you don’t know everything. That there are things you know you are missing even if you don’t know what those things are. 
3) They allow others to offer additional insights and lean into their creative thought process.  

Give your team the chance to take your ideas further. Ask them to help cover the areas you might not even be aware of. 

4) Ask Why…A Lot. 

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