Question Everything

A Q&A Guide

Do you like questions?

If you’re like most people, you want answers. And why wouldn’t you? Answers are information that helps us determine the current situation, how someone feels, or what’s next. We make big and small decisions every day based on answers. But how do we arrive at having answers? It starts with asking questions.

Yet, asking questions is not enough. We must ask the right ones. There are different dimensions to questions. Some illicit simple, one-word answers. Others can invite a varying degree of responses. Have you ever asked a question and received a response that was nowhere near what you expected? Understanding the different dimensions can better equip you to ask the right questions. Better questions can extract potent replies. When we ask better questions, we can better influence the conversation into a production exchange.

Answers are not nearly as important as questions. The right answer to the wrong question can lead you down the wrong path. A sign of an intelligent person is the quality of his questions.

In this article, we are going to go over:

  • Three dimensions of questions
  • Different types of questions
  • The art of answering
  • Questions worth asking
  • Owning your responses


The three dimensions of questions

There are three types of questions. I refere to them as 1D, 2D, and 3D questions.

1D Questions are binary.

Are you reading this?

The answer can only be yes/no, right/wrong. There are no feelings or interpretations included. It will be definitive. A 1D question is best used to receive a clear answer by eliminating unnecessary details. There should be no uncertainty in the response.


2D Questions are linear.

How much have you learned so far?

Responses are on gradients and scales. One person may reply ‘nothing at all’ while another says ‘quite a bit.’ A 2D question will invite varying answers based on the respondents’ experience. The response would fall into a set range of replies. With the example above, you are gaining insight on how much or how little the person is getting from your interaction. A 1D question would fail to offer the same value.


3D Question are open-ended.

How do you feel about these questions?

You’ll never know what comes out. 3D questions are open-ended questions, allowing room for complex answers. The open-endedness of the question allows the replier to navigate out loud their thinking or feelings. 3D questions can create constructive dialogue where 1D or 2D may not have. Such questions allow us to better understand the inner thoughts and feelings of the person answering. 3D Questions are great for getting to know someone, interviews, and dates.

“How do you feel about ____?” “What do you think about _____?”
3D Question to guage the persons feelings 3D Question to understand the person’s thoughts


Asking the right type of question

Knowing what type of question to ask impacts the answer you’ll receive.
If you needed to confirm Susan is attending a meeting, 1D Questions yield the appropriate type of answer.


More questions than answers


There are questions that can intensify or derail an interaction. Not all questions are equal in their power. In the examples below, note the effect each one can have on a conversation.

Machine-gun Questions

This one is Rambo’s favourite question: machine-gun questions. Asking back-to-back questions rapid-fire with no room to answer.

What the hell, man?
What were you thinking?
Why would you do it that way?
Didn’t you consider my feelings?

Bursting out a series of questions all at once serves little purpose, unless you’re purposely looking to frustrate or annoy your listener. If you’re on the receiving end of machine-gun questions, wait and listen. Let the person run out of steam. Respond with a statement-jab and question-knockout.

Never react. Always respond.
Friend, you’ve said a lot today and asked four critical questions.
Which question would you like me to answer first?


Go for the kill by adding:

Susan, do you remember your first question?

If you’ve been listening well, this would be an ideal time to recite the first, second, and nth question back. This usually takes the wind out of the offense. Remember, your goal is not to demean or belittle. Helping the other person see that they are asking too many questions for one person to answer honestly, can often times calm all parties and move back to productive dialogue.


Loaded Rhetorical Questions

This next one is a stinger too. The loaded rhetorical questions nested in statements.

Why did you do that?
The client asked for A and you created a task asking our writer for B
and our designer for C!
You’re an idiot!

Loaded rhetorical questions can trigger a strong emotional response. What makes them loaded is the presumption of fault embedded in the question. Don’t let the heat of the accusation make you snap back. Follow the same advice for machine-gun questions. Be calm, take note, and statement/question your way to clarification.

Susan, you asked a very important question. ‘Why did I do that?’
Would you like me to answer your question, or was it rhetorical?


Begging the Question

Similar to loaded rhetorical questions, both exist to elicit an emotional reaction. They are accusatory and offensive in nature. The question implies an untrue or unproven statement, attempting to trap the person being asked.

Have you stopped cheating on your taxes? Responses:
I will not answer loaded questions.
Your question is accusatory, and unfair.

Are you accusing me of cheating on my taxes?
Do you believe I cheat on my taxes?
Would you like to ask me a question that is not loaded with accusation?

Loaded question Appropriate options


Essay Questions

Essay questions can test your patience.

I’ve been meaning to ask you, while I was out getting coffee and a bagel I thought maybe tomorrow, if you have time, we can look over the plans to the proposal…would that work for you?

A major setup to a simple question. We call it ‘beating around the bush.’ Respect everyone’s time, and leave the bush alone. This is especially annoying in a Q&A session when a person wastes the audience’s time by requiring a major setup to ask a simple question. This often happens because:

  • The person wants to demonstrate their intellectual horsepower
  • The person wants to ‘beg the question’ and set up the responder
  • The person doesn’t know how to articulate his thoughts
  • I’ve been meaning to ask you, while I was out getting coffee and a bagel I thought- You may need to cut the person off:
    Cut to the chase Susan. What’s your question?
    Do you have a quesion? What is it?
    Please respect the audience’s time and proceed with your question.
    Essay question Appropriate options


    Asking to ask Question

    The question we all hear every day? The pointless one.

    Can I ask you a question?

    A question that is redundant. This typically happens when there is a power dynamic in play, in which the person asking the question feels she needs approval before she can ask. This pre–question question diminishes your power and stature. Don’t do it. Clearly ask the question on your mind.

    Can I ask you a question? Good
    Will I receive the raise?

    When will I receive the raise?

    Diminishes your power Increases your power


    Irrelevant Questions (and Answers)

    This is when the question or answer has little to no bearing on the subject discussed. For example, you are discussing a marketing project with someone and they ask:

    Are you left-handed?


    Is today Tuesday?

    The question has no bearing on the topic at hand. Irrelevant questions are questions which are believed to have no, or very little impact on a subject. Posing one or replying to derails the dialogue. In meetings, this can be very unproductive and costly.


    Unprofitable and Profitable Questions

    Imagine you are regularly late for meetings. After being particularly late one day, you ask yourself:

    Why am I always late? How can I make sure to be on time?
    unprofitable profitable

    The examples above can be labelled unprofitable and profitable questions. Our subconscious minds are receiving stations. Our brains want to honour the question. So when we ask ‘Why am I always late?’ the mind will look for reasons to why we are late. When we ask, ‘How can I make sure to be on time?’ the mind will look for answers. Profitable questions lead to solution-based results. Unprofitable questions loop the reasons why we were not successful. Dwelling on why you failed can lead to more unprofitable actions and habits. Reasoning on how to change sets you up for success. Each of these questions leads to a different reality.

    Every brain is both a broadcasting station and a receiving station for the vibrations of thought.
    Napoleon Hill, Think & Grow Rich


    The art of the answer

    When speaking

    Bad answers follow bad questions. But even if we ask great questions, we may give ineffective answers. Here are a few that’ll derail the aim and focus of the question.

    When someone goes on long, they forget the original question. They’ve given a run-on answer.

    While we may forgive a memory slip, receiving a totally different answer to our question means we’re either getting a wrong dimensional answer or a same dimensional response on the wrong topic. Next time you ask someone a question, listen carefuly and notice if the person is answering your question, or answering the question she heard.

    Wrong Dimensional answers break up a lot of relationships (one assumes).

    Q: Are you hungry? (1D Question)

    A: You know, I was walking down the street thinking about my childhood dreams the other day… (3D Answer)

    Cowardly Responses come in two colours:

    1. Avoiding answering a direction question (1D)

    Q: Did you steal the cookie from the cookie jar? (1D Question)

    A: You know, I was thinking the other day that there are too many cookies in the world.

    2. Asking a question with a question.

    Q: Did you steal the cookie from the cookie jar?

    A: But what is a cookie, my friend? And more importantly, why did you leave the cookie jar on the kitchen table?

    Thanks, thief.


    When listening

    In the words of Dale Carnegie, ‘Be a good listener.’ This skill helps win friends, influence people, and influence the conversation. Does the persons’ response start with I feel, or I think? Do they talk more or ask more questions? Are their questions loaded and rhetorical or curious and open-ended?

    Knowledge is power. That is why:

    He who asks the questions controls the conversation.


    Questions worth asking


    Critical questions help gain clarity and profitable questions lead to solutions. Here are a few that will assist you.

    • What are my options?
    • Is there a less expensive option?
    • Besides price, what’s the real difference between my options?
    • What do most people pick, and why?
    • What’s your favourite item on the menu?
    • I don’t know; what would you do/choose/pick?
    • If this was your ____, what would you do?
    • What should I be asking that I haven’t yet?
    • What do other people ask in my position?
    • What are the risks?
    • What’s the value we’re expecting to get?
    • What will I regret?
    • How does this land with you?
    • What’s the big thing in your life?
    • Why?
    • How come?


    Own your responses


    Remember these three tips:

    • Listen carefully: You already know your thoughts and viewpoint.
    • Respond, never react: Avoid a quick reaction. Be calm and guide the dialogue in the direction you want.
    • Be Curious: Ask good questions, get good answers.
    • The way we use questions can have a powerful effect. In the next article, see two real world examples of how questions control the conversation.

      Questions & The Quantum Realm: Which kind of Trudeau are you?

The Author

Pierre Monké
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