Most parents will be able to relate to this story. When our daughter, Rynn, was young, it felt like her favorite thing to do was to ask us questions. At the top of her questions list (the ones that would sometimes push us to our limits) were “Why?” and “What is your favorite….?”.
It sometimes felt like she was working hard to try my patience. In reality, what Rynn was doing was using questions to sort and test all of the information that was coming at her. I am sad to say that there were days when I squashed her questioning. I limited her right to ask me my favorite anything for the rest of the day. Or I told her she had used up her quotient of “why” questions. By and large, I think we attempted to answer most of her questions, even if it was only to say, “I don’t know” (a perfectly acceptable answer, by the way).
Comedian George Carlin said, “Don’t just teach your children to read; teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.”
We stop asking questions
Somewhere along the line, we stop asking questions. We become hesitant because we are afraid we will “look stupid.” How often have you sat in a conference or a team meeting and didn’t ask the question that was floating around in your mind? Sometimes you got lucky. A brave soul asked your burning question for you. But sometimes, no one did. When that happened, you walked away without the clarification or information you wanted.
Questions are critical thinking
Questioning is the heart of critical thinking. Through questioning, we explore issues. We evaluate alternatives and possible solutions. It is by questioning that we find new solutions to old problems.
At the beginning of our training sessions, we encourage questions. We repeat the cliché, “The only stupid question is the one that doesn’t get asked.” And we really mean that. We want people to clarify and even challenge the material we are offering so that it becomes truly useful to them.
In our workshop on critical thinking, we teach that curiosity is the first of four skills fundamental to critical thinking, along with flexibility, awareness, and common sense. To underscore the importance of questions, we give participants a topic and ask them to create a list of questions about it. As they complete the task, we see heads nodding and eyes lighting up over the long list of questions they create.
Albert Einsten said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning.” To encourage critical thinking on your team, you have to encourage curiosity, and that means creating a safe space for questioning.
Critical thinking is one of the skills we teach to build strong managers and teams. Let us know how we can help you.