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Ask Questions: A Great Lesson From My 4 Year Old

Written by Bonnie Van Epps, Director of Talent Development

I have a four year old who has recently started asking a lot of questions. And I don’t mean just a few, simple questions, I mean questions that literally make me stop and think, Hmmmm – I’m not sure if I know the answer to that or even HOW to answer that.  A few of his fairly easy questions have included, how does a boat float?  How is coffee made (mom must drink a lot of coffee!)

I usually try to keep my answers simple and relate it to something my son can understand or already knows.

“How does a boat float?” The shape of the bottom of the boat helps spread out the weight so that the water can hold it up. I related this to a show he saw recently where they talked about the things that float and the things that sink.

“How is coffee made?” The coffee beans are ground up kind of like sand and when you pour hot water through it, it makes something that grown-ups like to drink. I then reiterate that doing this to sand would not make a very good drink!

But he’s thrown me for a bit of a loop when he asks me things like, “How does my body know how to get bigger?” and “when I ask a question, where does it go?” Hmmmm… good questions buddy!

I admit that I’ve resorted to google for a few answers, but what I love the most about his questions is the pure curiosity at which he looks at the world – it makes me wonder – why do we stop asking questions like this as we get older?

Are we self-conscious and afraid of looking silly?

Do we feel like we should already know the answer?

Or is it something else entirely?

There are so many questions that I don’t know the answer to (many of them revolve around technology), but just like when my four year old asks questions, I love it when I am in meetings or discussions where people ask great, curious questions. I feel like it gives everyone an opportunity to better understand the topic at hand or see things in a different way. Recently as I was working on an internal development program, the question came up as to why we had development experiences aligned the way we did. Good question, I’m not sure why. Probably because that order made sense when we initially brainstormed and created the program. A few months later, and with that question in mind, we re-evaluated the why and determined a better fit which ultimately lead to a better experience for our employees.

As for me, I will always ask questions if it’s something that I personally need or want to understand, but many times I’m more focused on moving something forward and getting it done!  Unfortunately, this may lead me to make assumptions that we already have all the answers we need or to not take the content to a deeper level of understanding that could’ve really added value. I see some people not ask questions because they’re not quite sure what the right questions are to ask. And then I think of my four year old and realize that there’s really no such thing as a bad question. The beauty is in asking it.

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