What’s more important, the right answer or the right question?

Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.
Tony Robbins
1960 –

In school, we were taught that we needed to know the right answer. (Thankfully, it was usually in the back of the book.) As we grew up and embarked on our careers, we were again told to know the right answer. When we’re asked a question, it’s important that we know the correct response.

Lately, I’ve come to understand the value of asking the right question. The right answer to the wrong question isn’t worth much. But too often, we’re so focused on having the correct answer that we forget to consider whether we have the right question.

I’ve discovered one question that has served me well, and I want to share it with you. When I’m faced with a difficult situation or when something didn’t go the way I’d planned, I ask myself this question: what could I have done differently? Or to put it another way, what better choices could I have made?

Let me show you how this question applies in life. I had a meeting with a friend and it didn’t go well; we had a misunderstanding. As I left the meeting, I started trying to figure out what was wrong with my friend. I wanted to find the problem and fix it. I think that’s how most of us operate: when things don’t go the way we expect, we find fault with the other party and want to “fix” them.

Then I stopped my thought process and asked myself, “What could I have done differently? How could I have made a better choice to achieve a more favorable outcome?” With this way of thinking, I give up blaming my friend and look inward for what I could do differently.

Shifting the focus from others to ourselves requires some real effort. Our natural reaction is to see the problems occurring outside ourselves and look for the solutions there. But we must accept the idea that we can’t fix others; we only have control over our own thoughts and actions.

I have to remind myself to ask this question, because it’s not easy to look inside. But I have found this practice to be very useful. When I give up looking to change others and instead look at how I can improve, I make better choices.

I suggest you try this technique for yourself. Give up the idea of finding and fixing other people’s problems. Instead, start asking, “What can I ______________ or how can I ___________”; you’ll focus inward, and that’s where your efforts will have the most impact.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Copyright © 2018 John Chancellor


What’s more important, the right answer or the right question? — 4 Comments

  1. Powerful message, John. I can relate to your example because I know that tendency to focus on what the other person did to cause the problem.

    Then a good next question to ask myself is, “What choices will I have in a future similar situation and how can I more quickly recognize it at that time?”

    • Phil,

      I love the “next question”. We all seem to have the tendency to think the other person is wrong.

      It is so helpful to be reminded that we have choices and need to focus on our own choices before we try to make choices for others.

      Thanks for sharing your insights and wisdom.


  2. Lovely article John. It reminds me of Steven Covey’s equation about ‘stimulus + response = outcome. We have a choice between what comes at us and how we respond. It’s about making that choice to get the right outcome. He suggested that that is what taking responsibility really means – using our ability to choose our response to get the right outcome. Two questions I try to use (not often enough)are: ‘What outcome do we need?’ and ‘what response do I need to give to get the right outcome? Thanks for the article

    • Rosie, It is always good to hear from you. I appreciate your sharing your insights and wisdom.