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  • 1.  Asking Good Questions

    Posted 05-06-2021 09:17 AM

    I've always admired people that have an innate ability to ask good questions. This also includes asking the right questions and thriving in the process. My skills have improved over the years, mainly by watching others, but I'm still far from where I want to be? What have you learned about asking questions that will help others? Question asking is real art and can oft be a  fine balance between getting what you want and need and being seen as arrogant or inappropriate.

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 2.  RE: Asking Good Questions

    Posted 05-07-2021 09:54 AM
    That is a great question you asked: "What have you learned about asking questions that will help others?" It is a skill to be practiced, like other soft skills. I have personally grown the most in this area through Leadership Coach Training, which builds intentionally on the skills of asking questions and listening well. I went through this training with an organization called CBMC - the next class actually starts in 18 minutes from now (https://cmw.cbmc.com/events/leadership-coach-training-2). If you do the training, tell Gary I sent you. There are several resources for lists of powerful questions (usually starting with what or how) - but the questions mean nothing if the heart behind the question is off. Genuine interest not manipulation.


    Alexander McCaskill, PE

    Geotechnical Section, Bridge Group


    715 Kirk Drive, Kansas City, MO 64105  |  www.hntb.com

    Alexander McCaskill P.E., M.ASCE
    Geotechnical Engineer
    Kansas City MO

  • 3.  RE: Asking Good Questions

    Posted 05-07-2021 11:31 AM
    Edited by Heidi Wallace 05-07-2021 02:48 PM
    This is by no means an area in which I'd say I excel, but here is one observation I've had:

    As engineers, it's a good idea to ask about the core problem we are trying to solve. 

    Sometimes an owner, developer, architect, contractor, other engineer, etc. will ask us a very specific question. For example, "can you design an underground detention system for this parking lot?" Before jumping in with questions about budget or schedule, it would be wise to ask, "can I get some background information on what is leading to this request?" It may be that you can solve their problem by cleaning out the existing storm lines, adjusting the elevation of the existing outfall, etc. 
    I think for many detail-oriented thinkers (like myself) it is sometimes easy to skip over the big picture questions that could have a large impact on the approach.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 4.  RE: Asking Good Questions

    Posted 05-07-2021 02:34 PM
    Q. "What have you learned about asking questions that will help others?"

    A. Per Dr. Deming: "Ask group "why" 5 times in a row.   

      5 Whys

    Getting to the Root of a Problem Quickly[1]

    Stay healthy!

    [1] https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm

    [1] https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 5.  RE: Asking Good Questions

    Posted 05-07-2021 03:33 PM

    Asking questions has another name curiosity. We all inherit that tendency from our childhood – and learning begins by asking questions. As we grow up, some of us become shy afraid to ask questions, others doggedly pursue to seek answers to questions. The pursuance is what one calls the sharpening of intelligence. Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895) said it right: In the fields of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind. In Albert Einstein's (1879 – 1955) words: I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.

    We begin by asking to our own storehouse of knowledge, then to friends and colleagues – to consulting books and references . . . when not satisfied, we take the task upon ourselves – that's how exploration, discovery and innovation started. By that time, the questions have become more relevant, refined and focused.

    That brings us to the question: can the questions be good or bad? Well, it depends on at least four factors: (1) to whom the question is asked; (2) what is the motivation behind it; (3) how relevant is the question; or (4) how it is asked or worded, in other words how prepared is the question. All teachers (including myself) like students who ask questions – with the feeling that the asking student is ready to learn – and the teacher gives his or her best to help the student.





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    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

  • 6.  RE: Asking Good Questions

    Posted 06-07-2021 02:04 PM
    Edited by Jayvon Garth 06-07-2021 02:19 PM
    This is an interesting topic for me because a lot of people around me today commend me on this very topic. To be honest I have no clue about the what or how of asking questions, but I can share some things that I do prior to asking questions. I recognize there are instances where as experts in our work, we know what to look for & know when to ask questions in our knowledgeable environments. But I'm referring to times where a question is asked to fulfill a gap in knowledge.

    1. Do your research first. Many times I've found that the answer I'm looking for is staring at me. By giving myself the opportunity to look, that prevents asking generalized, vague questions with no substance to close the gap of knowledge on a particular topic. Doing some research shows that you truly have a vested interest in the topic and the individual you're asking the question to will appreciate that.
    2. Find simple ways to ask your question.  In an ideal world, everyone communicates the exact same way so this shouldn't matter. But that's not reality. Find ways to simplify your question without adding in a bunch of code words that you may not have knowledge about. Some of the "worst" questions I've came across come from people who use technical terms they feel I use, but in the wrong context to ask their questions.
    3. Admit that you don't have a question and would rather like to discuss.  I've noticed that when some use the term "question", it implies a one-time deal with no follow-up. But truthfully one question can open up a whole host of discussion between both people that can drag on for minutes, hours or days. Learn to recognize when you need to have a discussion as opposed to "asking a question". Unfortunately I've ran across people who I ask a question to, then seem to get frustrated when asking follow-up questions.
    4. Don't ask questions with the intent to remove responsibility from you. Look at a question as a tool that helps you make your decision. I remember starting off my career where I would phrase questions in ways where someone was telling me what to do as opposed to me learning to make a decision. Then when someone questioned my work, my response would be "____ told me to do _____ like this". Ultimately you still have the same knowledge gap & you're now throwing someone else under the bus for your decision.... that's not the best way to utilize a question in my opinion.
    I understand what I've laid out is subject to my own opinion and can likely be scrutinized, but these are some things I recognized I do when it comes to asking questions. By the time I have finally sent my question or request for discussion, I have probably spent between 30 minutes - 4 hours prepping for it.

    Hope this helps.

    Jay Garth P.E.
    Structural Engineer I
    Progressive AE

    EWB: An Engineering Culture Shift
    Grand Rapids, MI

  • 7.  RE: Asking Good Questions

    Posted 06-13-2021 10:51 AM
    I usually do some research about the topics being discussed and come up with a few questions in advance. During the presentation or talk, I would adjust my initial questions accordingly so I can understand the topics better.

    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA

  • 8.  RE: Asking Good Questions

    Posted 10-17-2021 08:29 PM
    When I'm in groups (for a project or for watching a presentation), there's always a lot of other people who ask questions first. Since they are always asking clarifying questions about the content and their responsibilities, I've thought of it as a time to review everything the presenter was just talking about.

    After which, I may ask a question regarding what else the insight could be used for, for another field or down the line. Since many others ask these clarifying questions first, I've felt like that makes sure what I'm asking does not sound ignorant of the current topic post-presentation...

    Alexander Granato A.M.ASCE
    Bexley OH

  • 9.  RE: Asking Good Questions

    Posted 10-18-2021 02:25 PM
    This may sound counter-intuitive, but from my experience speakers love easy, clarifying, questions and there's no penalty - actually the reverse - for those that ask them. Nobody wants to answer hard questions. These "softball" questions allow a speaker to elaborate on a point, introduce a missed point, or provide additional perspective, so they are welcomed and the speaker will look kindly over the person asking the question. This is not to say there's not room or a need for the more difficult questions. They have their place too.

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX