Think back to a time when you were a student; how much time did you spend trying to find the “correct answer”? I’m guessing quite a lot. In schools today, students still spend much of their day finding an answer. Don’t get me wrong, there is some value in finding the answer as this process can be an indicator of learning and understanding. But is finding “the answer” the only objective for schools and the education system as a whole? I think not. Students need to be creative, critical, and analytical if they want to be successful in not only the world of work, but in life itself.
In terms of learning, an important but underdeveloped (maybe undervalued) skill is questioning. Terry Heick, the Founder and Director of teachthought (www.teachthought.com) states:
“Questioning is the art of learning. Learning to ask important questions is the best evidence of understanding there is, far surpassing the temporary endorphins of a correct answer”.
The importance of questioning is also extremely valuable in the business world. An article from the Harvard Business Review had this to say about questioning:
Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.
Simon Sinek, a well-known author, consultant and speaker, has this to say about questioning:
It's likely that if you're having trouble understanding something, then somebody else in the room is as well. Asking questions doesn't mean you're the stupidest person in the room; it usually means you're the only one brave enough to speak up.
During my years in education I’ve seen many students who are confident and comfortable asking questions. I’ve also seen many learners (children and adults) who are afraid to ask questions for fear of “appearing dumb”. You probably have been in a situation (classroom, business meeting or small group conversation) where you didn’t understand what was being discussed and yet didn’t speak out. I know I have. So what can be done to overcome this?
In my opinion, everyone needs to be taught (from an early age) that it is alright to not understand everything and that this situation is also quite normal. Questioning is a process that needs to be taught, modeled and nurtured throughout a child’s formative years. As such, it is imperative that parents and teachers instill this thinking in their children/students. How we react to a question is also important; a question should not be seen as a challenge to authority but rather a search for knowledge and understanding.
I want to leave you with one last thought. The next time you don’t understand something, speak up and ask a question. You’ll probably end up feeling glad that you did!
Heick, Terry. “Why Questions Are More Important than Answers | Critical Thinking.” TeachThought, 12 June 2019, www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/why-questions-are-more-important-than-answers/#:~:text=Briefly%20put%2C%20questions%20are%20more,as%20the%20world%20itself%20changes. Accessed 13 Apr. 2021.
“How to Ask Great Questions.” Harvard Business Review, May 2018, hbr.org/2018/05/the-surprising-power-of-questions. Accessed 13 Apr. 2021.
Sinek, Simon. “The Truth about Being the ‘Stupidest’ in the Room | Simon Sinek.” YouTube, 16 Feb. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkLzo_oNVho. Accessed 13 Apr. 2021.