Have you ever been asked a question but didn’t understand exactly what was being asked? Have you ever been prepared to ask a question but didn’t know how to frame that answer? Why are questions so important in the communication process, anyway? Is it simply a matter of insatiable curiosity or is there a specific purpose?

The asking of questions is essentially a drive for knowledge — for an explanation, for information, and for learning. It starts at a young age and keeps on growing as we become adults. Questions help us to clarify our world, solve a variety of problems and provide information to make good decisions.

Believe it or not, there is a strategy to asking and answering questions.

In fact, there are many types of questions that can be used to enhance communication.

We simply must learn to ask the right questions at the right time and to ensure our questions will solicit the answers we are seeking.

There are questions to simply find out information, express an interest in someone, begin a longer conversation, gain control of a conversation, clarify something, or to test someone’s knowledge. Questions also can be asked simply to generate interest in a topic, create attention, or create focus for an inquiry.

These strategies include:

Communicators need to seriously think through their conversation, writing down questions and potential responses until there is a clear path to achieving the outcome you seek.

Marilee Adams, author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, suggests that communicators need to determine the purpose of their questions. For instance, are you attempting to learn something and/or are you trying to make a judgment regarding a specific choice? Adams suggests a "learner path" of thinking takes us into a whole new direction from a "judgment path."

She also suggests that a communicator must be constantly mindful of their thoughts and feelings and be aware of whether they start moving a conversation into a judgment path.

A judgment path asks questions that are more blame focused by using win/lose questions.

The learner path asks questions that provokes thoughts about choices and are solution focused. Usually, communicators bounce back and forth between the two but the issue is to be much more cognizant of where you stand as the person framing the questions.

The art of asking questions is exactly that — an art. It’s all about getting the right information by asking the right questions. And, yes, asking good questions can be learned.

Source: Active Listening and Effective Questioning, Mosaic Projects, White Paper; Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work, Marilee Adams, Barett-Koehler Publishers, 2009