This week provided me with an overwhelming range of blog topics. Smoky Seattle skies, even as we’re nearing November. Our company’s upcoming launch of a reimagined website. A return to training in-person clients. And discovering that dropping our daughter off at college the fourth time hurt more than the first. Wanting to keep a positive vibe in my blog, I decided to share a fun discovery from a recent hike to Melakwa Lake: the power of asking good questions.
Where Is the Clean Air?
If you have been following my blog, you may recall questions I asked myself on a recent autumn hike to Granite Mountain. This time, one of my most important questions came to me the night before: where can I find clean air? It was hard to do this month, as the Pacific Northwest has been hit hard by some of the worst smoke yet, thanks to wildfires in the mountains and zero rain. I’d perused the AirNow.gov website for possible shifts in the winds, and we decided to go east of Snoqualmie.
As I approached milepost 35 on I-90, I could hardly make out the mountain ridge above. No way can we hike in this! However, once we pulled into the Denny Creek campground twelve miles beyond, my mood improved. Blue skies. No haze. No smoky stench. Mission accomplished. My soul sang. We’d finally get to hike again!
What Makes for Good Questions?
As Ajax, my buddy, and I started up the trail, I eagerly anticipated the deep philosophical exchange that usually develops from our conversations. Later, in my never-ending quest to improve my communication skills, I tried to figure out what helps us have such great discussions. We have a knack for picking up right where we left off. In this case, our last hike together was four months ago. We also care deeply about each other. But perhaps it boils down to asking thought-provoking questions.
What are some of the qualities of good questions? Not only are they short, concise, and descriptive — and asked one at a time — but they also advance a conversation. They help you:
- Avoid confusion
- Provide additional information and clarification
- Get the conversation flowing
- Allow you to express your curiosity
- Explore new directions
Ajax and a friend beam in front of maple leaves on the trail to Melakwa Lake
Tips for Asking Good Questions
Bobby Powers provides tips about how to phrase a question on Medium.com. My favorites are:
Ask What and How, not Why
“Why” questions tend to put people on the defensive and make them feel like they’re being grilled. “What” and “how” are more objective and neutral. “Why didn’t you do your homework?” is not a question any student wants to hear. Or answer. But “How much time have you spent on your homework?” or “What kind of assignments did your teachers give you this week?” may start a much more interesting — and engaging — conversation.
Embrace the Pause
“Silence is the noise thinking makes,” offers Powers. Sometimes when the conversation runs out, I wrack my brain trying to come up with the next topic. During this hike, I let silence come and go, and was pleasantly surprised when my buddy came up with some fascinating things to talk about. And questions of her own. By allowing for pauses and processing time, our conversations go even deeper. And if we happen to expose a raw nerve, then we both realize there’s plenty more to discuss, but we take a gentler approach. Win!
Ask Open-ended Questions
Ask open-ended questions that require more than a “yes,” “no,” “maybe” or “I don’t know” reply. In the world of work, “Do you want a new job?” won’t lead very far. Instead, “What sort of responsibilities are you looking for?” or “How would you like to spend your day at work?” provides room for rich discussion — and may not require a change of job after all.
Ajax enjoying Melakwa Lake
Descending into the Smoke
We had both lakes entirely to ourselves. Unless you count the pair of chipmunks that made Ajax drool for fifteen minutes. As we made our way from Upper to Lower lake, a light breeze stirred, providing us with pleasant relief on an unseasonably warm October day. The levels of both rich emerald-green lakes were lower than usual, and the log jam we crossed to access Lower Lake was bone dry. The Cascade Mountains desperately need rain!
As we descended from Hemlock Pass, we caught our first whiff of smoke. It grew progressively worse, until the haze surrounded us. The breezes must have caused the smoke from fires to the west of us, on the ridge above Snoqualmie, to fill the valley. While we were never in danger, the air quality went from good to unhealthy within hours. Instead of pausing to soak our feet at the Denny Creek Water Slide, we continued directly to the car.
Take-Away: Quality First
My biggest takeaway from this hike, besides gratitude for the hours of clean air, is about appreciating the quality of good questions. It’s important to ask questions the right way because the multiverse will try to answer you. If you ask, “Why can’t I get this?” you’ll find the answer in the form of an excuse. If, instead, you ask, “What can I learn from this experience?” or “What might I try differently next time?” the answer will be much more instructive.
What is your experience with questions? How might you rephrase questions in the future to be more productive, more loving, and more supportive? Share in the Blog comments. We love to hear from readers.