Lesson 2 - Questioning

‘Ask why until you understand’

Quality Improvement Skills: curiosity, critical thinking, listening

All parents will recognise this trait, it drives us mad at times but you cannot doubt its effectiveness. Children have a natural questioning curiosity. They explore, question, wonder, and by doing so learn. Too often, however, well meaning adults curb their curiosity with caveats and warnings like “curiosity killed the cat.” Unfortunately they usually forget to add the second line of the saying: “but satisfaction brought him back.”

As QI leaders we sometimes make assumptions, develop stereotypes, and when it comes to using our analytical intelligence, since we think we already know, we often neglect to ask the questions. It isn’t necessarily that we don’t ask enough questions; it’s perhaps that we don’t ask the right questions. We often forget to ask the most simple but effective questions, especially, “why?” and “why not?”

Coffey et al (1993) identified that effective questions can stimulate, guide, and empower employees to think critically about the improvement processes that they are involved in. Asking thoughtful, well-phrased questions helps us better understand a process or activity, elicit explanations, reinforce or dispel existing knowledge and form opinions. Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz said “you can tell whether a man is clever by his answers but you can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” Quality improvement leadership requires the ability to challenge, to question, to doubt and to wonder.

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