Why Asking Questions Matters

“Why do Mexican dishes come with a side of rice and beans?”

I randomly asked an unsuspecting cousin one Sunday through a text message.

She says she doesn’t know, but she shared what her mother-in-law said a few minutes later (I suspect she was equally hell-bent on finding out). Initially, the meal only included rice and beans since meat was expensive and rare. Once other protein sources, including meat, were more accessible, people already had the habit of having beans, so it stuck. She added that depending on the region in Mexico, some use pinto beans, and some use black beans (this explains why Chipotle offers both).

We know a bit more about things and people asking questions.

Questions deepen our understanding

Recently, a beer brewery opened in our neighborhood, and we met its owner, Paul. We walked into the bar when the crowd was manageable, so we had a chance to talk to him.

My question was, “What was your career before this?” (Something to the effect of what he had done before opening the brewery.)

It turns out Paul was originally a pro-golfer for twenty years and a home brewer for twelve. He then worked as a general manager at another local brewery before opening Broken Tee Brewing Company. Now that we knew what he did in the past, the brewery’s name made sense.

By presenting a simple question, we got to know someone better, and I uncovered the answer to another question that had bothered me for a few months since they put the signs up: Why is that place named that?

Questions enable improvement

Many times, asking questions is more brutal than a relaxed conversation over great beer. One question that I’ve always found challenging to ask is, “What could I have done better?”. Conversely, I’ve also learned that answering that question is also tricky.

Last year, we lost a project, and I thought it was my fault for being the primary subject matter expert. I recall the review with my boss and concluding that I should have known more. If I’d been better at my job, we would have been able to keep that specific partnership.

That was not the real takeaway from that experience.

I remember asking for feedback but never really got a clear answer. I learned that I must treat questions with respect and address them with candor and candidness. The same attributes apply to conversations with my toddler – more so him than me.

We somehow lose the skill of asking questions as adults. For those who are reading this and are not parents, imagine being asked repeatedly for the same thing (for example, another bowl of ice cream), to which you’ve already declined with the same amount of “Nos.”

I’m finding that when I take the time to understand the reason for the request (for example, having another bowl of ice cream will delay bath time and, invariably, bedtime), I can address it.

At work, the best solutions come from open and respectful discourse. If you want to find out why something is not working, talk to the person performing the job, not that person’s manager or supervisor’s manager.

Questions are usually more meaningful than the answers

The essence of messages tends to get lost in translation. Asking directly from the person who holds the purest form of information is a surefire way of not getting a muddied message.

One of my life’s greatest disappointments is not having spent significant time with my grandparents. There is a roster of questions that I wish I could ask them about my parents and my history. I’m piecing together pieces of my story and, in some regard, preserving the legacy of those who have made my existence possible. Curiosity is taking me places.

Asking questions is an act of courage, for sometimes, the answer is not what we want, but it is often the answer that will lead us down the path of discovery.

In “The Book of Three,” Lloyd Alexander writes, “In some cases, we learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do by learning the answer itself.”

What’s piquing your curiosity today, and have you ventured to find the answers? 

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