Review: Change Your Questions, Change Your Life

change your questions

Change Your Questions, Change Your LifeMarilee Adams (Foreword by Marshall Goldsmith). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015.

Summary: Builds on the insight that the kinds of questions we ask shape our actions, and focuses on learning to ask “learner” rather than “judger” questions.

Marilee Adams proposes that the kinds of questions we ask of ourselves and of others, whether they be spouses, work colleagues, or coachees, profoundly shape our actions and our lives. She calls this Question Thinking. She proposes that we choose between two types of paths, two types of questions: the Judger path and the Learner path. For example:

  • Judger asks: What’s wrong with me?  Learner asks: What do I value about myself?
  • Judger asks: What’s wrong with him/her? Learner asks: What do I appreciate about him or her?
  • Judger asks: Whose fault is it? Learner asks: Am I being responsible?

Often, when we are in Judger, we feel hopeless, depressed, uptight and we feel ourselves tensing up. In Learner, we relax. Adams uses a tool called the Choice Map to illustrate these paths and the Judger Pit when we are controlled by Judger questions.

We all have a Judger in us, but Adams offers hope in terms of switching questions. This is rooted in learning to become an observer of when we are in Judger, accepting the Judger in us, and learning to ask questions that move us into Learner beginning with “Am I in Judger?”, “Is this what I want to feel or do?”, “Where would I rather be?”, and “How else can I think about this?” (a very helpful question!). Often this leads to questioning our assumptions. Another tool she provides is the ABCD process (Aware, Breathe!, Curiosity, Decide).

When a leader develops a Learner perspective, he or she is positioned to develop a learner team. It begins with changing the questions one asks with a team, but also training them in the Choice Map so they can become aware of when they are in Judger or Learner. A tool that particularly energizes Learner in teams is Q-Storming, that is brainstorming Learner Questions.

Adams presents this material through the story of Ben, a talented manager whose team is failing. Ben is struggling and ready to resign until Alexa his boss refers him to Joseph, who coaches him in Question Thinking and learning to make the switch from Judger to Learner. She introduces different Question Thinking tools through this narrative as Ben experiences a transformation in his marriage and his work as he moves from Judger to Learner.

The book concludes with Twelve Tools for leadership, coaching and life, and exercises the reader can use to implement these tools in their own context.

While I suspect that this approach is not the “magic bullet” for every situation, Adams’ insight seems important. Our self talk, indeed our self-questioning does reflect a mindset, one that can foster either negativity and self-protection, or a positive atmosphere that respects and looks for the best in oneself and others and what they can do. It seemed to me that the critical insight of this book is that of questioning our assumptions, and asking ourselves if there are other ways to think about the situations we encounter. Often, we get locked into one way of seeing things, often one that doesn’t do justice, either to us, or to the others in our lives. Adams’ approach helps us get unlocked.

 

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