The Why and How of Asking Good Questions
Christine M. Anderson-Cook, Los Alamos
Christine M. Anderson-Cook,
About the Author
Christine Anderson-Cook is a retired, Guest Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she worked from 2004 until 2021 leading projects on complex system reliability, nonproliferation, malware detection and statistical process control. Her specialties include Design of Experiments, Response Surface Methodology, Reliability, Statistical Engineering, and Multiple Criteria Optimization.
Anderson-Cook has authored more than 200 articles in statistics and quality journals, and has been a long time contributor to the Quality Progress Statistics Roundtable column. She also co-authored a popular book on response surface methodology with Raymond Myers and Douglas Montgomery and served on numerous editorial boards, including a special issue in Quality Engineering on statistical engineering she edited with Lu Lu.
Anderson-Cook is a George Box Medal winner and an elected Fellow of the American Statistical Association and the American Society for Quality. She is also the recipient of the 2012 William G. Hunter Award, and a two-time recipient of the ASQ Shewell Award. In 2011 she received the 26th Annual Governor’s Award for Outstanding New Mexico Women.
“Once you have learned to ask questions - relevant and appropriate and substantial questions - you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.”
Some hallmarks of JMP® software are the mission to enable and nurture curiosity, and to make finding out important answers easy. Exploring how to pose effective questions can make learning more efficient and enjoyable.
In this white paper, Christine Anderson-Cook discusses the goals for asking good questions, not in a test-taking environment, but in less formal settings where collaboration and mentoring are the main objectives. We'll first talk about some of the things that can be achieved with good questions, and then explore some tactics for improving how we ask those questions.
What are some of the objectives that we might have for posing questions? Different situations call for different approaches and should match our objectives of what we are trying to accomplish in our discussions. In the first part of the paper, Anderson-Cook outlines various goals for asking questions, including:
» gathering information » evaluation and assessment
» soliciting feedback
» challenging assumptions
» establishing rapport and inclusiveness
» validation » providing balance in relationships - allowing others to be experts
» changing the tempo or direction of the discussion
» confirming the transfer of information provided.
After considering the goals and objectives of questions, Anderson-Cook discusses how to pose them effectively, not thinking of good questions as a simple “one strategy fits all,” but rather as a case of adapting our approaches to match the objectives we have. Having discussed why asking good questions is important, Anderson-Cook next addresses the "how," focusing on three broad situational categories:
1. Evaluation and assessment. Using questions to gather particular information, likely based on clearly defined formal metrics and objectives to appraise.
2. Collaboration. How questions can build rapport and and foster a safe working environment, where members seek to ask questions with the goal to learn about areas outside their expertise, share their current understanding, synergize their collective expertise to create better solutions, as well as challenge assumptions or approaches in a non-confrontational way.
3. Mentoring. How mentors’ questions can create a safe environment, encourage inquisitiveness and help guide learning. For those being mentored, the goal with questions is to gather information, confirm the transfer of information and share their level of understanding.
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