The Important thing is not to stop Questioning – Albert Einstein

I remember when one of our kids questioned everything with “Why” when he was a toddler.  He even continued into his teen years.  We learned to take advantage of his curiosity and use it as a “teaching moment”.  He became an avid learner.

Why should a BAM practitioner continually listen carefully and ask good questions?

  1. It empowers, respects, and dignifies the person you are questioning.

Most people don’t grasp that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding. Research at the Harvard Business School suggests that question-asking influences the level of amity between conversationalists.

John Hagel III writes, “In my 40 years as an executive and advisor in Silicon Valley, I’ve often seen leaders assume that people look to them for answers — bold assertions that build people’s confidence in their competence. But, that kind of approach erodes trust, especially at a time when so much is manifestly uncertain. You think you have the answers to all the important questions? That suggests that you are either clueless — you have no idea how rapidly the world is changing — or that you are lying.”1 This certainly does not build trust and empower the person to whom you are talking.

“Active listening is a key communication skill that involves absorbing the information someone shares with you, and reflecting back—through questions and your body language—that you heard them.”2 It  helps you better understand another person’s point of view and respond with empathy. This is important in all types of relationships, especially in business.

I once had an accountant from our finance department come into my office, close the door, and blurt out, “Susie has absolutely no Emotional Intelligence”.  In the conversation that ensued, I learned that the accountant did not feel listened to and was simply spoken to without any intelligent conversation.

On the other hand, I had an experience in Kazakhstan when our lead consultant, Ken was teaching on the role of finances in the Bible to an audience of about fifty. He was made uncomfortable by a pastor’s comments, which disputed Ken’s teaching. Ken handled it professionally and asked empowering questions of the individual. Some days passed as we consulted with about a dozen businesses.  At the Sunday church service, Ken was called to the front to receive an award. The pastor explained that in the 20 years since the wall came down scores of Americans had come to Almaty telling them what they should do.  Ken was the first person who listened, asked questions, and treated them with respect.

  1. Questions cause people to think, evaluate their lives and make important changes.

Questions can be greater than answers. The biggest life change happens when we give people space to reflect on a question rather than giving them the answer. This is exactly what Jesus did when asking the 307 questions recorded in the New Testament. When we are told a fact, it’s not really ours; we may not have ownership of the knowledge yet. When we have to stop and process to arrive at a conclusion, it becomes part of who we are. That’s what Jesus was doing. He was causing his followers to pause and contemplate who He really is.

The fact that scriptures include less than ten times that Jesus answers questions, is a teaching and conversation methodology clue. Some call it the Socratic Method, and it encourages dialog and differential thinking. Forceful conversation is seldom helpful, but when people indicate openness to an invitation to something, learning and progress in thinking and action often takes place.

For some years, I facilitated the development of a crisis management plan for business teams in high-risk places, like Yemen, China, Bosnia, Indonesia, India etc.  I used a method called the Nominal Group Technique, which encouraged individual interaction and creative solutions in the risk management process. The assumption is that those in the business context on the ground likely have superior understanding than the outside facilitator (who has a role but not one of dominance).  As the business team members wrestled with issues, made evaluations, and reflected on alternatives, they were more able to create viable answers to life-saving questions.

  1. You gain new information and knowledge for yourself.

As noted by Hagel above, it is rather arrogant in our world today, to think we know all the answers.  When I was a teacher, then a researcher, then a professor, I preferred to think of myself as a facilitator of learning. When I was a manager, I preferred to be thought of as a co-creator of progress.

Leaders need to be constant learners and we all learn differently – listening to experts on podcasts or in seminars, in one-on-one interaction, by reading books and so on. In every case, knowledge and expertise is often transferred from one source to another.  Internships, Incubators, Accelerators, and such programs when done in cohorts, strengthens our business expertise as we listen and learn.

In the movie Amazing Grace, Wilberforce as a member of the British parliament, came to faith in Christ. He was perplexed as to what he should do next, and there is a scene at a dinner table where a woman sitting across from him said, “We understand you are having problems choosing whether to do the work of God or that of a political activist … we humbly suggest that you can do both.”

The point of course, validates biblical teaching. Martin Luther once said, “Monastic vows rest on the false assumption that there is a special calling, a vocation, to which superior Christians are invited to observe the counsels of perfection while ordinary Christians fulfill only the commands; but there is no special religious vocation since the call of God comes to each in the common task.”

How would the world be different if Wilberforce did not listen and learn?  How about David Green who came from a family of full-time Christian workers, but listened to God and advisors who validated his penchant for business (and not relegate him to be a second-class Christian as he had been taught)? Hobby Lobby is the result. The same is true of Truett Cathy of Chick-fil-A, David Kier of DFS Animal Feeds, Alan Barnhart of Barnhart Crane, and countless more.  What if Bill Job had stayed in “full-time ministry?”  What if David Gowdy and Gil Sheehan did not listen to the BAM presenters that day?  Or what if Dwight Nordstrom hadn’t listened to the call to business instead of basketball evangelism?  All of these learned by listening.

Asking questions was not something that Albert Einstein first validated, but his history of doing so is well documented.  Jesus modeled it, and his brother James articulates in in James 1:19: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” “The important thing is to not stop questioning.”

  1. John Hagel III, HBR, January 8, 2021
  2. Written by Coursera • Updated on Feb 21, 2023
  3. A good short article.

Larry W. Sharp, BAM Support Specialist, IBEC Ventures

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