The Art of Inquiry


By Lauren Dichter, Marketing Consultant at Heinz Marketing

In a LinkedIn Learning course called Using Questions to Foster Critical Thinking and Curiosity, author and Master Certified Executive Coach Joshua Miller makes a compelling case for curiosity. As a matter of fact, after taking this course, I think the classic refrain “Curiosity killed the cat” should be changed to “Curiosity opened the cat up to endless possibilities and knowledge”. If only it had the same ring to it…

The point is, you should follow where your curiosity takes you, because it will always lead you to gain new information, perspectives, and more. You can ask as many questions as your heart desires, but the trick is to make sure those questions are the right ones, asked at the right time, to the right people, and phrased in the right way.

In this blog post, I’ll document each section of Miller’s teachings with my notes and key takeaways—so you don’t have to! After all, following where our curiosity takes us requires some free time. Read this synopsis (on the house!) and get back to asking questions—of yourself and others—about whatever it was that last piqued your interest.

It Starts with You

The actions we take are based on the questions we ask others and ourselves; and the way in which we phrase those questions determines the quality of the answers. Asking high-quality questions will:

  • Foster critical thinking skills
  • Boost self-confidence
  • Enhance creativity
  • Improve problem-solving skills
  • Enable you to guide a conversation in a particular direction, thus eliminating confusion

Questioning is defined as the ability to organize our thinking around what we don’t know. And while knowing the right question to ask is key, we also need to know where to direct the question.

The Four Domains of Questioning

Even though our lives as humans are richly diverse, they can be boiled down to 4 main areas. We should regularly be asking ourselves questions targeted at these 4 domains:

  1. Wellness
    • Wellness of course refers to the totality of your health, which includes various elements like mental, physical, and social health, as well as all the sub-elements that roll up into those 3 main buckets to nurture and maintain your wellbeing.
  2. Finances
    • This refers to the way you manage your money. Are you generally comfortable? Or are you struggling to make ends meet?
  3. Relationships
    • This refers to the connections you foster and sustain with yourself and with others. Based on the way you talk to yourself today, would you want to be friends with yourself?
  4. Career
    • This refers to your occupation or professional path. Do you feel fulfilled? How can you increase fulfillment?

Empowering Yourself Through Questions

What’s your intention behind the question you’re about to ask? Thinking this through can remove any potential embarrassment you might feel for asking a question, so you can really go for it and seek the answers you need.

Techniques for Getting the Answers you Need

  • Don’t ask yes/no questions. Instead, ask open-ended questions; these allow you to receive the full picture, complete with valuable information and insights that would otherwise go un-discovered.
  • Always consider follow-up questions, like:
    • “What makes you say that?”
    • “Why do you think that?”
  • Learn to embrace the silence that comes after asking a question. If you patiently await an answer, you’re more likely to get a robust and honest one.
  • Don’t interrupt a person while they answer—it stops that person’s train of thought from playing out.

Benefits of Being Curious

Curiosity is linked to greater intelligence. Just look at what Albert Einstein and a host of other legendary minds have said about how their curiosity drives their genius! Moreover, curiosity is also linked to psychological, emotional, social, and physical health benefits.

For example, did you know that kids ask 125 questions a day on average, while adults ask only 6? At first, I was shocked to hear this statistic, because 119 questions are a big difference! But after further pondering, it makes complete sense. As we age, we suppress our natural urge to inquire—and the reasons are endless.

Sometimes we’re embarrassed to ask, sometimes we think we already know everything there is to know, and other times, we’re just trying to save ourselves precious time! But it’s truly a shame, because studies in cognitive neuroscience have proven curiosity is directly related to improved learning and memory.

When in a curious state, people are better able to retain information. Other benefits of curiosity include:

  • Survival (remember how fire was discovered?!)
  • Boost in achievement
  • Improved happiness
  • Expanded ability to empathize
  • Stronger relationships
  • Increased productivity

Check your Assumptions

All that’s needed to assume is 1) a lack of information, and 2) an unwillingness to ask questions that would help you fully understand something. Assumptions occur because our brains are hard-wired to make them; we fill in the gaps with our own interpretations of incomplete information.

But because we have the tools to know better, it’s a part of our primitive brain we need to actively work against and challenge. Assumptions effectively stunt our individual—and collective—growth and development. They also:

  • Hinder our creativity
  • Keep us from taking responsibility for our beliefs
  • Cause us to jump to conclusions

So why do we even make assumptions? Why is that a part of our primordial brains? Well, it’s a built-in mechanism for reducing stress and anxiety. Assumptions act like autopilot in our heads, allowing us to focus on other things instead of our basic beliefs. If we were always analyzing our beliefs, we wouldn’t have time for anything else!

Although assumptions make sense, we’ve got to check ourselves. We don’t want to make wrong assumptions that are potentially dangerous! So how do you figure out if an assumption is true?

  1. Identify what you believe.
  2. Examine your belief against objectivity, i.e., asking yourself “How do I know this?”

We must do our own fact-checking before deciding we know something, and especially before sharing our assumptions with the world.

How to Ask Questions

Different Types of Questions

There are 5 different types of questions, and each should be used in specific contexts.

  1. Closed
    1. Closed (yes/no, option 1/option 2) questions:
      • Give facts
      • Are easy to answer
      • Are quick to answer
      • Provide the questioner with control of the conversation
    2. Use Closed questions when:
      • Opening a conversation
      • Testing someone’s understanding
      • Setting up a frame of mind by using successive questions
  2. Open (longer responses, more creativity)
    • Open questions:
      • Ask you to think and reflect
      • Are met with opinions and feelings
      • Provide the respondent with control of the conversation
    • Use Open questions when:
      • Following-up on closed questions with a respondent who is quiet
      • Trying to broaden the perspective
  3. Leading/Loaded
    • Leading/Loaded questions:
      • Subtly point you in a certain direction
      • Are not great for getting at the full truth
  4. Recall or Process
    • Recall questions:
      • Require something to be remembered, i.e., “What is your boss’s first name?”
    • Process questions:
      • Require deeper thought, analysis, and sharing of opinions, i.e., “What skill can you bring to this role that other applicants cannot?”
  5. Rhetorical
    • Rhetorical questions:
      • Don’t require an answer
      • Are often humorous
      • Are employed to get people to think and stay engaged

Social Media’s Role in Asking Questions

There are 6 rules for asking questions online, over email, or over text:

  1. Know what you want.
  2. Actually ask for what you want—don’t expect people to read your mind!
  3. Be clear so even those not in your question’s target audience can understand
  4. Be targeted about who you ask—quality of respondents over quantity of responses!
  5. Be responsible with the questions you ask—would you be okay with it if it ended up on the cover of the New York Times? Would it cause concerns?
  6. Choose your platform and people wisely—don’t share your question just anywhere and with just anyone, or you won’t get the answer you’re looking for.

The Trouble with Canned Questions

Canned questions are designed to limit the answer, which is problematic because you could miss out on some great information. They’re typically asked in job interviews and performance reviews. But you can easily avoid asking them by limiting your questions to 1 sentence an ensuring it’s open-ended.

Moreover, only provide options in your question if you’re 100% sure those are, in fact, the only options.

Stay short. Stay open-ended. Stay neutral. And LISTEN.

So Now What?

Expectations vs. Setting Intentions

The questions you ask should set intentions but shouldn’t set expectations. Hinting at an expectation focuses on a future outcome, has a success or failure attached to it, and is all about results. This mindset causes anxiety.

On the contrary, setting intentions focuses on the process you go through to achieve those outcomes. As long as the intention and mental investment is there, the results shouldn’t matter. In other words, “It’s the journey, not the destination.”

How to Answer Questions

  1. Listen to all parts of a question and don’t jump to spit out a response in record-time.
  2. Do what you can to understand or clarify the question; paraphrase it back to the questioner to confirm.
  3. Communicate and involve.
    1. This is particularly important for group settings, like when fielding questions from folks attending a presentation you’re giving.
  4. Respond briefly and in the most focused way possible.
  5. Always allow for follow-up questions!


How Curiosity Opens Doors

Don’t take things at face-value; look for the learning opportunity in every situation. Be mindful and stay curious!