Are You Asking The Right Questions?

I’ve been thinking a lot about questions lately.

My mind is always pondering things. Wondering who, what, why, how and when. I’m always “chewing the cud” so to speak. Thinking about how to improve things. Make them better. Make them more authentic and genuine. Make them more effective, efficient and experiential.

I think it’s healthy to ask questions of some staid traditions from time to time. It’s a good thing to revisit why and how we do things. I believe we should take some institutionalized practices and hang a question mark on them.

The right question, asked at the right time can lead to some amazing insights, reflections and thoughts.

Yet in today’s society, honest questions can often lead to ricocheted reprimands. Why is that? What causes that emotional rebound when someone asks an authentic question? Why do we get defensive if someone asks a candid question? Is it because we may not have an answer? Is it because we feel that we are being threatened?

In the association and meetings industries, basic questions like, “What are we inviting people to do?” and “What would happen if we treated our conference attendees like a community?” may be welcomed or repelled. I wish they were welcomed more.

Asking Death-Questions

In the association and meetings industries, some people ask death-questions.

  • Who’s in charge here?
  • How can we prevent or slow down change?
  • Why can’t these people just fit in and do things the way we’ve always done them?
  • Where can we cut expenses?
  • Why would you want to change something that is working?
  • Who’s accountable for that?

Maybe death-questions are a necessary stage in the dying that precedes new life.

Asking Life-Questions

Some organization leaders and conference organizers ask life-questions.

  • How do we deal with diversity that often comes with growth?
  • How do we create an experience of a Cheers-like event that has become a very large conference where people don’t know everyone’s name?
  • How do we do mass-customize for each and every attendee?
  • What needs do people bring to our association? Our event? Our meetings?
  • What will tomorrow look like?
  • What do our members and conference attendees need of us?
  • What’s next?

When was the last time that you attended a staff, a Board of Directors or an annual association membership meeting where you did nothing but ask provoking questions? What if we were all invited to ask probing, honest questions without anyone responding? What if we were all given the opportunity to frame the questions, as well as to answer them? What if we put the tough questions on the table for everyone to ponder until the next meeting?

What if we made a fervent plea for more dialogue and less decision-making? What if yes or no questions were not allowed? What if we encouraged reflection, musing and contemplation vs. shooting an idea down?

For me that would be refreshing. For I think we often get caught up in finding and giving the right answers.

Wisdom = knowing when a decision needs to be made and when to ponder

Part of wisdom, I think, is knowing when a decision needs to be made. There are times when the right choice is to be perplexed and to ponder. We may need to “chew the cud” as we witness something new, something totally beyond our tradition or experience. This new thing may frighten us because we’ve not experienced it before and we don’t know how it will end.

Resorting to old death-questions won’t be enough. Citing what we used to know won’t be enough.

The authentic response might be to question, and, in time accept. Questioning won’t satisfy the fervent or political. It might give us an opening to hear something we haven’t already heard yet or considered.

What death-questions annoy you the most? What life-questions would you like to ask your professional association, nonprofit or conference organizers?

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt, Zerista Pro. Zerista Pro said: RT: Are You Asking The Right Questions?: I’ve been thinking a lot about questions lately. My m… #eventprofs […]

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Great post.

    I will propose a third line of questions … “life-enhancing questions.” Questions, in essence designed to make things better for all concerned. These types of questions may be the toughest of all, cuz they may mean throwing out tradition completely, or starting over. Conversely, could be as simple as just a proposed change to a process. It just starts with someone having the courage to throw the question on the table.



  3. Mic says:


    Always love reading your posts….and in this instance, in particular, I love that you are using those words “honest” and “authentic”. The world of social media is requiring…(demanding?)..that people and businesses be more REAL and more transparent. I, for one, LOVE IT.

    Hey, are you going to be at the AAFP annual meeting this year? I may be doing some training at the meeting and would love to meet you.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for adding a third line of questions: life-enhancing questions. I like that. I think it fits nicely with life-questions too.

      Thanks for reading and responding. I do believe that people are appreciateing and respoding to authentic and transparent organizations these days. The more we can be honest with them, the further we can get. Sorry I won’t be at AAFP. Maybe we’ll connect somewhere in the future. I’d like that.

  4. Sam Smith says:

    I think framing questions and looking at the context is important if you want the right results. For example, if you ask a question and lace it with disparaging remarks – I don’t think that you are going to get open dialogue. You are going to get defensive responses.

    Also, I know that it is really hard for people to imagine and embrace a future that they cannot comprehend, relate to or feel like they will have a hand in creating. In this way, I think you need to ask a series of questions that gets them to respond in a way that paints a picture of that future (in their own words) and makes it real.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Great points on getting open dialogue versus defensive responses. I also like what you describe of painting a picture of the future in their own words. Thanks for those additions.

  5. […] Asking the Right Questions – Jeff Hurt points out that if the answers you are getting don’t move your association forward, maybe you aren’t asking the right questions. […]

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