Why are questions so effective? Because they direct the recipient’s attention.
What we pay attention to creates our thoughts. And what we think about, we become.
Here are some fascinating insights about your brain’s response to questions:
- FOCUS – When a question is posed, it takes over your brain’s thought process, triggering a mental reflex known as “instinctive elaboration”. Researchers have found that human brains can only think about one idea at a time, so when you ask a question you are harnessing the power of the brain to consider only your question.
- INSIGHT – The entire brain gets active when reflecting on a question, which releases serotonin that allows it to relax and gather insight from all areas of the brain. This creates far more potential for insights and also allows new neuronal connections to be made as the brain moves closer to finding solutions.
- FEEL GOOD – Harvard researchers found that questions that asked for the person’s opinion increased neural activity in the part of the brain that is associated with reward and pleasure.
- CREATE CHANGE – When used in decision making, questions are useful because they prompt the brain to contemplate a behavior. And research has consistently shown that the more your brain contemplates a behavior, the more likely it is that you will engage in that behavior! In fact, your perception and even your body chemistry can be altered by just thinking about a behavior, even before you actually engage in that behavior.
So now that we’ve convinced you of the effectiveness of asking questions – how can you create the habit of asking more questions?
If you’ve read Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit you’re familiar with the concept of a habit loop. This is the three-part psychological pattern that forms a habit. First, there’s the cue that tells your brain to let a behavior occur, then the routine (the behavior itself), and finally the reward – something your brain likes that helps it remember the habit loop.
Using this idea, what habit loops can you create that will help you ask more questions? Our answer to this was to put questions on cards that sit in front of us at our desks. When we have a moment between calls or when taking a break, we flip through the questions as an inspiration. That idea turned into the Leadership Catalyst Question Cards!
Asking questions and listening to the response is a critical skill for the 21st century. Whether you want to focus attention, identify insights, feel good or create change, questions are a powerful tool.