The Power in the Question

by | Sep 12, 2012 | Writing

“There’s more power in the questions you ask than in the answers you give.”

This quote is from John Marshall, a Seattle-based business coach. I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience for one of his presentations last week. His quote resonated with me. Why?

Well, I think I’ve always been enamored with questions. As a reporter, my job was to ask questions. Questions have long been my friends. By asking questions, I got the answers necessary to write articles, to explain complex issues in simple language, to get paid to learn about unusual topics and then translate to the readership what I’d learned. I love questions.

Still, John’s quote made me pause. I thought about this for a bit. Questions are useful, not just in acquiring facts, but for interacting with another human being on a meaningful level. When we ask questions, we are telling another person that they are important, that we value what they have to share, that we care. Questions, when phrased with candor and a positive tone, are a complement to someone on the receiving end.

As a writer and reporter, I’ve had the great privilege to ask questions of some fascinating people. I remember interviewing the late Artist Jade Reidel, a painter. Before she met me, other reporters had only asked her about her technique. But I delved deeper. She told me stories that she had never told another living soul—stories about her childhood during the Second World War and what it was like for her and her brother to escape the Japanese army on foot through the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

I asked the late Record Producer Louis-Victor Mialy what it was like to produce albums for Legendary French Singer Edith Piaf. I asked PGA Pro Golfer Greg Norman about architecture. And I asked Florida Everglades Fishing Guide Snapper Butler about the meaning of life.

The questions have always been my gateway to the world. If I had been more interested in what I had to say, than in what my subjects were telling me, I’d have missed out on the good stuff. My presumptions, my ego, could have overpowered the best part of the story. Through practice, I’ve learned to check my ego at the door and leave my preconceived notions at  home. And so, at the end of every interview, I ask the most open-ended, permission-giving question of all: “Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you think I should?”

Oh, the answers I have received…