The 6 Essential Questions You Can Ask Children & Employees

One of the great pleasures of my life is having thoughtful conversations with children.

Being an Uncle and a friend of children relieves me of the parental relationship and creates openness and free-space to engage at a different level.

I love opening those conversations with gentle questions like: What did you learn at school today? Or, what surprised you today? Or, what happened when ‘X or Y’ happened?

I am not sure which came first, but I often used similar open-ended questions with members of my team. I learned more about what was going on at work by framing questions to find out if people understood why they were doing something over what they are doing.

Read more about asking why

I recently read a great post by Ozan Varol, where he related a story about a question from a parent asking how he could cultivate curiosity and critical thinking in his children. He responded with questions parents should ask instead to inspire a richer conversation, discovery information and inspire creative & critical thinking.

They reframed my opening questions, my challenge to you is: How can you use them in your workplace?

1. Instead of “What did you learn today?” Try “What did you disagree with today?”

“What did you learn in today?” reinforces the regurgitation of knowledge on demand.

By reframing the question, you can develop the ability to challenge the status quo and to question alternative facts and convenient lies.

2. Instead of “What did you accomplish this week?” Try “What did you fail at this week?”

We live in a society that stigmatizes failure. As children we don’t fail, we receive participation awards. Now as entrepreneurs – and quite weirdly – terms like ‘fail fast’ have become participation medals for adults.

Read more about the fallacy of successful failure

In asking What have you failed at this week gives people the breathing room to tackle problems and it creates space to reflect, learn, and improve on your next attempt.

3. Instead of “Here’s how you do that.” Try “How would you solve this problem?”

When an employee comes to us with a problem, resist the initial instinct to deliver a quick and efficient fix.

Let them find a solution on their own. The process involved in finding the answer is far more important than the answer itself.

4. Instead of “That’s just the way it is.” Try “Great question. Why don’t you figure out the answer?”

As children, we were masters at asking questions and were moved by genuine curiosity. The education system and workplace have beaten curiosity down because most questions have been settled because That’s just the way it is.

Instead of stifling your employee’s curiosity, encourage them to ask questions and remain curious through open-minded inquiry.

5. Instead of “You can’t do that.” Try “What would it take to do that?”

Don’t off-handedly dismiss ideas as crazy or infeasible. Imagine if a young Einstein had been silenced by a busy or annoyed boss.

Open possibilities instead of closing them off, encourage seemingly crazy ideas by engaging with your people in conversation.

6. Instead of “Did you make a sale today?” Try “How did you help someone today?”

The first question is superficial.

The second encourages forming meaningful connections and developing a spirit of generosity. It is a far better message to be on the lookout for opportunities to help others.