Five tips for asking better questions 

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Five tips for asking better questions

1. Good questions require creative thinking.This has always been true, I think. Good questions are fundamentally creative. But today, when all facts are available to all people, it's the questions that have become most important. To get to the answer, you have to ask the right question in a search bar. But also, to differentiate yourself in the workplace, you need to focus on questions, since answers are a commodity.

2. When you’re lost, look for questions, not answers.As my career shifts, I find that the key to keeping the shift moving in a productive way is to ask good questions. It's ironic, because one of the most frequent questions I get from people is “what's the best way to make a career change?”

And the answer is to ask much more insightful questions than that one. For example, I know I want to write about the farm, but I'm not sure how to do it. So I've been asking questions about how photos fit into blogs and what is the intersection of farming, family, and business?

3. Think of your career path as a question path.I am also spending time redecorating the farm house. Actually, to call it redecorating is a stretch, since the farmer moved in twenty years ago when the couple living there died, and did not do one, single thing to redecorate. So the house is a time capsule from the 1940's when it was designed. Anyway, I wouldn't say redecorating is a career change, but maybe just a vocation vacation. Do you know that term? You try out a career for a few weeks? That's what I've been doing. And I realized that I'd only want to be an interior designer for my own house. But I like learning about interior design. And I am realizing that any career shift is about learning and exploring until you land in the right spot.

Questions I am asking lately:

I was surprised, but it made a lot of sense to me. I told her about the job. And I ended up making her an offer.

So don’t hijack the interview, but try to ask a bit about the position at the begining of the inteview and then you, too, can tailor your answers to the requirements of the job. With this strategy, coming up with questions will be easy because you will naturally want to know what the hiring manager is looking for so you can be that person:

What would the first three goals be for the person who takes this job?

What are the biggest hurdles to overcome in this position?

What type of person do you think will be most successful in this position?

If you ask a variation of these questions toward the beginning of the interview — even if you ask only one or two — you’ll be in a much better position to ace the rest of the interview.

While it is bucking convention to ask questions toward the beginning and not the end, consider that you will look more authentic doing this. After spending the whole interview convincing the person that you are a good fit for the job, why would you ask questions about the job at the end? Presumably, you already talked about why you are a good fit.

So when you get to the end of the interview, and the person says, “Do you have an questions for me?” You can feel free to say, “No, I think I asked enough questions at the beginning of the interview to understand how I will fit in well in this position. I’m very excited about working with you. I think we’re a good match. Do you have any reservations?”

Some of you will ask what these questions have to do with career change. But a career is not a history of how you make money. A career is a learning path. It's what direction you take in your personal learning.

4. Asking good questions takes work – that you have to do yourself.This struck me during my New York trip as well, because one of my best friends is Lisa Nielsen, who leads New York City Public School technology initiatives and writes a blog about education reform. She is a big advocate of me homeschooling my kids. She says that kids don't need to learn subjects. Kids need to learn how to ask questions about things that are passionate about. And that's no small task: First, you have to learn how to find your passions. Then you have to learn how to ask questions. Most adults can't do either thing well, which is a good argument for taking kids out of school, I have to admit.

5. Field other peoples’ questions to get better at asking questions.Finally, the last thing I did in New York is visit Seth Godin's office, to interview him. You can watch the video here. But before you look, let me tell you that the biggest criticism of the interview is that my commentary about peoples' questions was obnoxious. This is true. I am becoming increasingly impatient with questions that reflect poor self-knowledge. And with questions that reflect a penchant for finding roadblocks instead of finding ways to soar. Neither of these bad question types seem genuine, or useful. (Here are some examples of questions like that.) No one complained about Seth during the webinar though, because he had a better approach to the questions. He tells people what they are really asking. So the webinar is really a webinar on, among other things, how to ask a good question.

The webinar also served as a good lesson for me. Instead of complaining about the questions I get, I should answer the question by sharpening the question. People almost always know the answer to the real question but the real answer is often scary. So we conjure up an ancillary question to distract us from reality.

I also need to be more kind about peoples' questions, by helping them figure out what their real question is. And the process helps me do it with my life, too. For example, I'm not sure my real question is “What is Steampunk Style?” My real question is how does style fit into my career right now?



If I had known ... I wish I had known ...

A. Study this example situation:

Last month Gary was in hospital for an operation. Liz didn't know this, so she didn't go to visit him. They met a few days ago. Liz said:

If I had known you were in hospital, I would have gone to visit you.

Liz said: If I had known you were in hospital... . The real situation was that she didn't know he was in hospital.

When you are talking about the past, you use if + had ('d) ... (if I had known/been/done etc.):

* I didn't see you when you passed me in the street. If I'd seen you, of course I would have said hello. (but I didn't see you)

* I decided to stay at home last night. I would have gone out if I hadn't been so tired. (but I was tired)

* If he had been looking where he was going, he wouldn't have walked into the wall. (but he wasn't looking)

* The view was wonderful. If I'd had a camera, I would have taken some photographs. (but I didn't have a camera)


* I'm not hungry. If I was hungry, I would eat something. (now)

* I wasn't hungry. If I had been hungry, I would have eaten something. (past)

B. Do not use would in the if-part of the sentence. We use would in the other part of the sentence:

* If I had seen you, I would have said hello. (not 'If I would have seen you')

Note that 'd can be would or had:

* If I'd seen you, (I'd seen = I had seen)

I'd have said hello. (I'd have said = I would have said)

C. We use had (done) in the same way after wish. I wish something had happened = I am sorry that it didn't happen:

* I wish I'd known that Gary was ill. I would have gone to see him. (but I didn't know)

* I feel sick. I wish I hadn't eaten so much cake. (I ate too much cake)

* Do you wish you had studied science instead of languages? (you didn't study science)

* The weather was cold while we were away. I wish it had been warmer.

Do not use would have... after wish in these sentences:

* I wish it had been warmer. (not 'I wish it would have been')

D. Compare would (do) and would have (done):

* If I had gone to the party last night, I would be tired now. (I am not tired now--present)

If I had gone to the party last night, I would have met lots of people. (I didn't meet lots of people--past)

Compare would have, could have and might have:

* If the weather hadn't been so bad, we would have gone out.

* If the weather hadn't been so bad, we could have gone out. (= we would have been able to go out)

* If the weather hadn't been so bad, we might have gone out. (=perhaps we would have gone out)



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