How To Turn Your Good Ideas Into Great Questions

Despite the popularity of brainstorming in meetings, sharing ideas doesn’t often lead to a creative discussion. Asking questions does. Here’s a technique to turn your good ideas into great questions.

Leaders, coaches, mentors, parents, and consultants all like their own ideas. “If people would listen to me and do what I said,” we think, “things would get a lot better around here.” The trouble is, everyone else is thinking similar thoughts regarding their own ideas.

Ideas have their place. As a leader, you may have ideas based on your experience. Share them. Others will benefit.

However, asking questions and letting the others contribute their thoughts has a number of powerful benefits. Compare the effects of sharing your ideas with asking questions:

  • Ideas tend to reduce discussion, while questions increase it.
  • Your ideas are known to you, while questions draw out new ideas.
  • Ideas often focus too early on how-to, while questions explore objectives, meaning, and priorities.
  • Ideas narrow options, while questions broaden options.

How To Turn Your Good Ideas Into Great Questions

You will have ideas, even if you’re trying to ask questions instead. I created a technique to turn your good ideas into great questions. Here are the three steps:

  1. Begin with your idea. It is usually too specific, too focused, and an answer with too many assumptions built into it.
  2. Broaden the idea. Take that idea and broaden it to the category or topic behind your specific idea.
  3. Ask an open question. Ask about the category as an open question beginning with the word “What” or “How.”

Let’s do this together:

  • “You should borrow money to do that.”
    This is your idea in a sentence. Now turn it into a question.
  • “Are you going to borrow money to do that?”
    This is the kind of question that leaders usually ask when they turn their ideas into questions. I call these My-Idea Questions. You can see the idea right in the middle: “borrow money.” While this is a question, it’s not a great one because it limits discussion to what’s on your mind and risks manipulating the person to your idea. You’ll damage the relationship if people sense manipulation.
  • How are you going to finance that?
    This questions takes your idea, “borrow money,” and broadens it to the category of finance, allowing you to ask an open question that can draw out any number of ideas.

My-Idea Questions Turned Into Great Questions

Doing the 3 steps above takes practice. Especially, moving from My-Idea questions to open questions. Here are a few examples that have been changed into a great questions that still get at the topic.

I have a helpful book on managing teams, would you like to read it?
How could you improve your ability to manage your team?

Have you thought about firing him?
What options do you see in working with him?

Could Susan help?
Who might be able to help?

What if we launched a Facebook marketing campaign?
How could we expose more people to our products?

It’s important to understand that you still influence the topic of the discussion, yet, without controlling the ideas or the outcome. Your open questions help people explore and gain perspective. You influence with questions rather than ideas – and that’s empowering.

The ideas that emerge during the discussion can be examined, built on, and evaluated. By using great questions, we can help people own the process and the product of the discussion.

Question: What effects have you seen from asking questions instead of sharing ideas? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. You own your comments but give me permission to use them. See My Comments Policy. Read my Permissions Policy to know how you can use my posts.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    4 thoughts on “How To Turn Your Good Ideas Into Great Questions

    1. Great contribution, Keith.

      However, I want to put to our colleagues two points?

      1. How do I do when I am in situations or environments where the ability of thinking is very small or poor and people never gets there to the point?

      2. As part of the discussion or brainstorm, where I am the facilitator, how do I offer and idea or suggestion without making people thinking I am manipulating or dictating?

      • Good questions!

        For the first one, I suggest asking probing questions that will “force” them to think deeply. Your questions can guide the topic, directing them to “finances,” as in this article.

        Regarding #2, this has more to do with your status and relationship within the group. One technique is to share an idea and follow it up with a question: “What ideas does that bring to mind?”