How to Make Better Decisions
Managers and leaders can reach better solutions by asking better questions.
Students in the Master of Science in Leadership and Change program at St. Edward’s take Visiting Assistant Professor of Management Sara Gibson’s Critical Inquiry and Decision Making course. The course is designed to help students think analytically, weigh evidence and present ideas in clear and logical ways. Here’s a look inside her classroom.
Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem isn’t to come up with a solution at all. It is, instead, to ask a better question. Whether you’re thinking of leaving a job, considering a new role with increased responsibilities and stress, or working with a difficult client, taking time to reconsider a problem through targeted questions can offer insights that can transform the approach you ultimately take.
“Our human tendency is to have a problem, define it, and immediately move to a solution,” says Sara Gibson. “Asking insightful questions helps people appreciate the complexity of many problems.”
It’s also a technique that you can use today with a little help from friends and colleagues.
For example, say you’re struggling with a large work project. You’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re falling behind, and you’re not sure how to move forward. Gibson suggests three ways to make the most of a question-based approach to problem-solving.
Empowering questions help reframe the issue in positive ways. “How do you feel about the project thus far?” and “What are you most pleased with?” are good examples. Avoid disempowering questions, such as “Why is this project behind schedule?” These questions often lead to defensiveness.
When individuals define a problem, they often consider it only from one perspective, failing to realize that there are often many ways to tackle an issue. For example, in this case, questioners might ask, “What other departments would be happy to lend their resources to help get the project on track?” or “Are there pieces of the project that could be delayed without negative consequences?”
By asking at least four — and as many as eight — other people to go through a question-based problem-solving session, you’ll come away with new ways of thinking about a problem and possibly a better course of action.
While there is no exact formula for good questions, Gibson says the key lies in the questioner’s ability to be thoughtful, reflective and empathetic.
“Good questions can help people see their unexamined assumptions, which can make them blind to many possibilities,” she says. “It’s a simple technique, but it’s both powerful and effective,” says Gibson.
The MSLC program at St. Edward’s University prepares its students to lead positive change within an organization through a comprehensive understanding of leadership from individual, group, organizational, and global perspectives.
Erin Peterson is a freelance writer.