Thursday, May 17, 2012

Quality of Questions

The quality of the questions we ask ourselves affects the quality of our life. They can lead us on the path to failure, or they can guide us towards success.   Let me explain.

We often pose questions to ourselves after experiencing some unfavourable outcome or event. Our mind then goes to work and formulates a proportionate reply. Take these internal question-reply dialogues as examples:

“How could I fail this test?”
                - “Because you’re an idiot. Math isn’t your thing.”

“Why doesn’t my spouse ever understand me?”
                - “Because he/she is incompetent. He/she is so self-centred.”

“How come he/she is so rich and I am not?”
                -”They probably pull some scam with the tax system. My money is still pure.”

“Why do I always get sick?”
                -”It’s genetic. It’s just a trial that you will have to bear.”

You’ll notice that these replies all lead to dead-end conclusions. They attempt to justify failure, and convey despair. The problem, however, is not the replies - they are exactly appropriate to the questions being asked. The problem is in the quality of the questions. These questions are set up to give dead-end replies.

Poor quality questions trigger a chain of reactions that lead to failure. First, they generate dead-end replies. These replies then lead to debilitating beliefs, which then result in ineffective responses or no response at all, which ultimately lead to failure. If, for example, an individual fails a string of tests, he/she may believe that he/she isn’t good at math, and will likely continue to perform poorly in math class, and ultimately fail the course.

In a similar vein, we can ask ourselves questions that are set up to trigger meaningful and actionable responses - responses that propel us towards achievement and success. Take for example, the following incident with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him), narrated by Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him):

A bedouin asked the Prophet about the Hour. He said, "It will surely come to pass. What have you prepared for it?" The man said, "O Messenger of Allah, I have not prepared much in the way of prayer and good works, but I love Allah and His Messenger." The Prophet said, "You will be with those you love." The Muslims had never rejoiced as much they did when they heard this hadith. (Buhkari)

Although the bedouin’s question had some value in terms of acquiring information, notice how the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) responded with a more meaningful, actionable, and relevant question. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) was getting the bedouin to ask a quality question, one that would potentially elevate his station in the next world. It is through this question, that this ummah, including the companions, recognized the merit and significance of loving Allah Most High and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him), to the point where even his companions “had never rejoiced as much they did when they heard this hadith.”

Returning back to the sample questions I posed earlier, let’s try to replace them with quality questions - questions that offer hope and possibilities towards resolution and achievement:

“What do I need to do to pass the next test? What did I do wrong, that I could correct for the next time?”
            -”You weren’t providing full proofs. You need to provide them to get full marks.”
-”You were misunderstanding some of questions. You need to make sure you understand the questions properly.”

“How can I improve communication with my spouse so that we understand each other better?”
-”Perhaps you need to take responsibility of the relationship, rather than waiting on your spouse to understand you.”
            -”Speak to a counselor or get a relationship coach.”

“What can I do to increase my wealth?”
                -”Explore some entrepreneural possibilities.”
                -”Get a financial advisor.”

“How can I improve my health?”
                -”Look for ways to boost your immune system.”
                -”Trace back triggers that cause my illness.”


These are just some examples of questions that generate possibilities and elicit more questions, which should eventually lead to some action.

Notice that poor quality questions relate mostly to the ‘why’ of some event or outcome. Such questions trigger justifications for the issue, but seldom offer some actionable next steps. At best, they make the bitterness of failure more tolerable. High quality questions, on the other hand, relate to the ‘how’ of addressing an unfavourable event or outcome. ‘How’ questions offer solutions, seeing problems as challenges that can be addressed.

I’ve noticed that many people habitually ask poor quality questions - questions that result in dead-end replies. I didn’t realize how poor my questions were until I heard Anthony Robbins introduce the whole concept of ‘asking better questions‘. Since then, I have been observing the questions I ask myself, and replacing any dead-end questions with quality questions. I also encourage you to take some time and listen to the questions you ask yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment