How To Ask the Right Questions

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

My experience tells me that the questions we ask determines where we end up in life. There is really no more cogent influence on our thinking and circumstances than the questions we formulate and ask. I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced there are 4 kinds of people:

  • Those who think they don’t really need to ask questions because they know it all already.
  • Those who ask questions but not the right ones.
  • Those who do ask the right questions.
  • Those who ask the right questions because they continually ask if they are asking the right questions.

In reality, we are a combination of all four of the above. Obviously, the most successful people find themselves in the fourth group more often than not, don’t they? (Did you see me just ask a question?)

carnival of personal finance

Let’s look at an example in order to illustrate how truly powerful this idea can be for you.  Assume for a minute you are unhappy with your investment results.  No matter what, you come out on the short end of the stick.

The “smarty pants” person can’t possibly fathom the idea that he’s making a mistake.  He figures that the market is rigged.

The person in the second camp asks if she should be buy different stocks.  That’s not a bad question but it’s not the right one because the answer won’t lead this investor to a better outcome over time.  It’s not the most powerful question to ask right now.

The person who asks if her investment process is flawed is asking the right question but she can do even better.  In order to take it to the next level, she needs to ask herself how she can be sure this is the right question to ask right now.

In this case, the best way to make sure she’s asking the right question is to consult with 3 people who are getting the results she wants.  She should ask these people if the most important thing to consider is the investment process or is she missing something even more important? If her mentors agree with her, she can investigate alternative investment processes.  If they come up with some other ideas, she should pursue those instead.

Once she is sure of the right question to ask, she can easily pursue the answer and odds are high she’ll get the results she’s looking for.

Consider a different example.  Let’s say you can’t stand your job and feel trapped.  The know-it-all thinks he’s considered all the alternatives and stays stuck.

The person who asks how to make more money is asking the wrong question.  The person who tries to determine why she doesn’t like her job and lists all those things she likes and dislikes about her job is on the right track to finding a better gig.  And if this person checks her thinking with three other people who are thoroughly satisfied with their work, she’s absolutely going to find a solution.

The beauty of this process is that it always works if you take it to level four.  You can never be sure you are asking the right question in most cases.  When something is really important to you, always check your process with other people who have what you want.  Tell them in brief what you are grappling with and what you’ve come up with as a line of investigation.  Ask them if they think you’ve forgotten anything and then be quiet.  Listen and soak it in.  Don’t try to convince these people why your thinking is right.  That’s a foolish waste of brain power and opportunity. Instead, try to listen objectively and ask yourself “what about what I’m hearing is right and/or helpful?”

What important question have you forgotten to ask yourself recently? What area in your life do you most want to see a shift in? What questions do you need to start asking yourself in order to succeed?

 

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