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  • Ginger Bandeen, LCSW

Asking Better Questions to get Better Answers

I'm attending an online conference this week. Well, to be honest, I'm hopping into the conference when I can and hoping to catch up on what I missed by watching the recordings.

Side note: This is one of the reasons I miss live, in-person conferences. I do a much better job of NOT multi-tasking if I'm sitting in a non-Zoom room with people.

Anyway, to help people prepare for small-group "mastermind" breakouts, the conference organizers suggested some resources to help us come up with better questions so we could use our time well when we were in the "hot seat".

The suggestions for asking better questions were so helpful, and I think a lot of them apply to the way we ask questions in other areas, too.

The best suggestion was to really think about the intention of your question.

Are you asking the question for your benefit or for the benefit of others?

Isn't that a great thing to remember all the time?!

When we're building a report to answer a question, are we really looking for an answer, or are we hoping that asking the question has an effect on the answer?

Here's an example of a question we might start out asking from our analysts:

What is our agency's no-show rate?

What is our intention with that question? On the surface, we want to know our no-show rate, but what we might really want is for people to start thinking about attendance, to start paying attention to it, and to see if that attention makes a difference.

So, we might want to ask these questions instead:

  • How has our no-show rate changed over time?

  • Have changes correlated other things going on in the agency or in the world?

  • What is our no-show rate across programs, locations, services, or populations?

  • Do attendance patterns shift based on other factors we could be monitoring?

Each of these questions will yield rich information, and it might answer the question you're really thinking about:

Is attendance something we want to improve, and, if so, what should we be doing about that?

We'll get more meaningful answers to our questions if we're mindful of our intentions.

How could focusing on the intention of your question help you get better answers?

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