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Change Your Questions, Change Your Life

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New edition of the word-of-mouth bestseller (over 75,000 sold) that outlined a revolutionary technique for changing your life

• Extensively revised throughout, with three new chapters and three new tools

• Written as a quick, easy-to-read story that engages, inspires, empowers

The first edition of Marilee Adams’s book introduced a surprising, life-altering truth: any of us can literally change our lives simply by changing the questions we ask, especially those we ask ourselves. We can ask questions that open us to learning, connection, satisfaction, and success. Or we can ask questions that impede progress and keep us from getting results we want. Asking “What great things could happen today?” creates very different expectations, moods, and energy than asking “What could go wrong today?” Many readers reported that they found themselves asking better questions before they even finished reading the book!

This is the key insight that the book’s hero, Ben Knight, learns from his executive coach as the story of his transformative journey unfolds, eventually leading to breakthroughs that save his career as well as his marriage. His success rests on having become a “question man” and an inquiring leader rather than a judgmental, know-it-all answer man.

In this extensively revised second edition, Adams has made the story even more illuminating and helpful, adding three new chapters as well as three powerful new tools. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life is practical yet simple, giving readers an entertaining, step-by-step guide to a technique that will transform their personal and professional lives. Great results really do begin with great questions – Marilee Adams shows you how to ask them!

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14 Chapters

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Contents

ePub

 

1 Moment of Truth

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A rosewood paperweight on my desk bears a sterling silver plaque declaring: Great results begin with great questions. It was a gift from a very special person in my life — Joseph S. Edwards — who introduced me to Question Thinking, or QT, as he called the skills he taught me. QT opened up a part of my mind that otherwise I might never have discovered. Like everyone else, I believed the way to fix a problem was to look for the right answers. Instead, Joseph showed me that the best way to solve a problem is to first come up with better questions. The skills he taught me rescued my career and saved my marriage as well. Both were definitely in trouble at the time.

It all started when I was invited to take a position at QTec. The company was in the midst of a major overhaul at the time, and the word on the street was that, barring a miracle, they would fold before the year was out. A friend warned me that accepting a position with QTec would be like signing up on a sinking ship. What convinced me to take the risk? It was my trust in Alexa Harte, the recently appointed CEO at QTec, who’d offered me the position. I’d worked with her for years at KB Corp, my previous employer, where she’d won my respect as a gifted leader. Her confidence about turning QTec around was infectious. Besides, she promised me a great promotion: hefty pay raise, impressive title, and a chance to act as lead in developing an innovative new product. If everything went well the risk would pay off in aces. If not … well, I tried not to think about that.

 

2 A Challenge Accepted

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My appointment with Joseph S. Edwards was at ten the next morning. I didn’t tell Grace about this meeting nor about my conversation with Alexa. And I certainly didn’t tell her about writing my resignation. Admitting I was in trouble had never come easy for me. For weeks now I’d been stonewalling Grace and feeling more and more resentful about all her questions. Until I found the right answers and solutions I was determined to tough it out and keep my problems to myself. But as usually happened with Grace, I wasn’t so good at hiding my problems.

I should have realized she knew something more than the usual job stress was bothering me. That morning, on our way to the airport where Grace was catching a plane for a lunch meeting in another city, she brought things to a head. As I pulled up to the curb at the terminal, she told me, “I’ve been feeling like a widow lately. You’ve been so distant and moody. Ben, if you want a real partnership with me, you’re going to have to make some changes.”

 

3 The Choice Map

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When we resumed this conversation, Joseph pointed to a mural on the wall of his office. I’d noticed it before but hadn’t paid much attention to it. “This is what I call the Choice Map,” he explained. “It helps us become better observers of the two basic paths we take in life — the Learner Path and the Judger Path. When things aren’t working, you can use this map to figure out what’s in your way and find a better path for getting what you want.

“Notice the figure standing at the crossroads between the two paths at the left side of the Choice Map,” Joseph continued. “That represents you and me — every one of us. In every instant of our lives we’re faced with choosing between the Learner Path and the Judger Path. The smaller figures show what kinds of questions we ask on each path and what happens, depending on which path we take.”

From his chair Joseph directed a laser pointer at the map, swinging it back and forth between two little signs. The one by the Learner Path said, “Choose,” the one by the Judger Path said, “React.” I could see how imagining myself on one path or the other could be a way of observing my own choices and actions.

 

4 We’re All Recovering Judgers

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We took a short break while Joseph went off to get us coffee in the kitchenette adjacent to his office. He was gone long enough for me to check my cell phone for messages. One of them, from Grace, was about her young assistant Jennifer, who had messed up yet another assignment. “I’ve just got to vent,” Grace was saying. “I feel like I’m two seconds from firing her. Can you call me right back?” I snapped my phone shut. Why was Grace bothering me at work? Couldn’t she handle Jennifer by herself? Did she think I needed her problems on top of mine? My jaw and shoulders clenched up.

Just then Joseph returned with a tray that held two full coffee mugs and containers of cream and sugar. I took a mug and some cream, glad to focus on stirring what was in my cup. I needed to settle myself down so I could listen to what Joseph was starting to tell me. He was back to his story about the superintendent.

“My client and I both had a breakthrough that day,” he was saying, “right after I recognized I had gotten hijacked by Judger. After I changed my questions and switched into Learner mindset, everything was different.”

 

5 Kitchen Talk

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It was early in the morning when Grace found the Choice Map I had stuck on the refrigerator door the night before. As usual, I awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and made my way downstairs to the kitchen. Grace is always up before me. She’s one of those people who wakes up cheerful and enthusiastic about each new day. I’m just the opposite and I know it sometimes puts Grace on edge. She claims that I’m like a bear coming out of hibernation in the morning. I don’t think I’m quite that bad, but I don’t exactly start the day off with a song in my heart.

As I entered the kitchen, I found Grace standing in front of the refrigerator with her back to me. She appeared to be engrossed with the Choice Map. I was immediately worried about what she might say. I was pretty sure she’d start probing and I’d have to tell her the whole thing — about my trouble at work and all the rest of it. That would lead to how I’d gotten the Choice Map and why I’d posted it on the refrigerator. Then I might have to tell her about why Alexa had referred me to Joseph and that could turn into an emotional minefield.

 

6 Switching Questions

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As I stepped off the elevator at the Pearl Building, I found Joseph watering his ficus trees with a large red watering can. It surprised me to see him doing something I would have handed off to my staff. He turned to me with a friendly smile. “I love having plants around. It’s a daily reminder that all living things require our attention,” he said. “No office should be without at least a plant or two. My wife, Sarah, is the gardener in our family. She says plants force you to ask questions. Are they getting enough water, enough sun? Do they need a little pruning? Do they need special nutrients? They thrive on questions, just like humans do.” He quickly finished his gardening chores and we went inside.

“When we finished our last meeting, we were talking about the Choice Map and what it tells us about Learner and Judger mindsets,” Joseph began. “Have you had any further thoughts about any of this?”

I guardedly told him about Grace, our talk in the kitchen, and how she’d taken the Choice Map from the refrigerator to work with her.

 

7 Seeing with New Eyes, Hearing with New Ears

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We started our next meeting with a question that had been disturbing me since early in my conversations with Joseph. “Maybe it’s just wishful thinking,” I began, “but given the problems Judger throws our way …”

Joseph lifted his hand, signaling me to stop, and replied, “None of us can avoid slipping into Judger from time to time. It’s only human.” Then he smiled enigmatically and added, “But you can free yourself from Judger, simply by accepting that part of yourself. Judger is not the problem, it’s how we relate to Judger that makes all the difference. It’s such a simple formula: Judger-Switch-Learner. But nobody can use it without beginning with acceptance.”

“Huh? That doesn’t make sense. How can I be free of something that’s part of me?”

“It does sound like a paradox, doesn’t it,” Joseph said. “But it is possible. Simple acceptance of what is creates a level playing field so that change is really possible. But leveling the field can also be challenging, especially if Judger whispers in your ear a lot. Did Alexa ever tell you about her husband Stan’s breakthrough?”

 

8 Learner Teams and Judger Teams

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During our break, I started remembering what it had been like to work at KB. It had been very different from what I was now experiencing at QTec. When I compared the two experiences — KB versus QTec — there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that at KB I had mostly been in Learner. As a research engineer I did most of my work alone, then reported my findings to the team, taking their questions and providing answers. It was easy to be in Learner most of the time. By contrast, at QTec it was apparent that I was in Judger more often than I cared to admit. No matter where I looked, especially with my team, something seemed to be going wrong or somebody was failing to do what they were supposed to. How could I avoid going into Judger? As Joseph and I continued our meeting that day, I hesitantly shared this observation with him and told him, “I’m not sure where to take it from here.”

“I think I can best respond to that with a story,” Joseph replied. “You’ve probably heard of the mythologist Joseph Campbell. He was famous for coming up with exactly the right story for every situation. Here’s one I heard many years ago.

 

9 When the Magic Works

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Over breakfast a few days later, Grace told me about what had happened with Jennifer, the young woman she’d been having so much trouble with at work. Grace even apologized for calling me during the day just to vent.

“I kept the Choice Map on my desk all day,” Grace said. “Two Learner questions kept jumping out at me — What do I want? and What are my choices? When I applied those questions to Jennifer, I realized I wanted her to start showing more common sense and initiative. So, I tried some new questions. I asked myself, Why does Jennifer need so much direction from me? I became truly curious after I realized I didn’t know. Was she afraid of acting on her own? Or worried that I’d fire her for making a mistake? I also wondered whether she had more going for her than I’d given her credit for. The next time she came to me for help I asked her a question instead of just giving her instructions. I inquired, ‘How would you solve this problem if you were the boss?’

“That single question opened up a very productive conversation. Jennifer confessed that she was, indeed, afraid of me. She thought if she didn’t do exactly what I expected her to, I’d fire her. This is what had happened with her previous boss and she didn’t want it to ever happen again. That talk changed everything between us. She said she felt better about taking initiative and working on her own. She also came up with some good ideas for solving her own problem. She was obviously very pleased with herself. I congratulated her — and told her how happy I was that we had our talk.

 

10 Q-Storming to the Rescue

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With less than half an hour to get ready for my appointment with Charles, I focused on the three questions Joseph had given me that morning: What assumptions am I making? How else might I think about this? and What is the other person thinking, feeling, and wanting?

Then my secretary buzzed, announcing Charles’s arrival. In the past, I would have kept him waiting. Today, I immediately got up and met him at the door. We shook hands, and I asked him how he was doing. He replied that he was fine but he looked a little nervous. At least I wasn’t the only one. When I originally made the appointment with him, I’d been all set for a showdown. But that was before my meetings with Joseph. Since then, my perspective on the problems between us had changed considerably. I offered him a comfortable chair and asked if he’d like coffee or anything to drink. That must have surprised him because I’d never done that in the past. He thanked me but said he was fine, holding up a small bottle of water he’d brought along.

 

11 Amour! Amour!

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That night, charged up by all that happened in the meetings with Alexa and Charles, I worked late. In fact, I worked till long after dark, making notes for the meeting the next morning with Charles and the team. I also sent an email to Alexa to check on Joseph’s availability for meeting with us within the next few weeks. Time raced by. When I remembered to check the clock it was two hours past the time I told Grace I’d be home. I considered calling but figured she’d be in bed sound asleep, so I decided not to disturb her. On the way home in the car I noticed it was going on eleven.

When I walked in the house I found Grace sitting alone in the dimly lit living room. She was in her pajamas, reading by a single lamp beside her chair. The moment I greeted her, I knew something was wrong. She silently set aside her book, walked up to me, took my hand, led me over to the sofa and told me, gently, to sit down. I sat, half expecting her to announce that someone had died — or that she was leaving me. She leaned forward in her chair, elbows on her knees, gazing into my eyes in a way that made it quite clear that this was going to be a serious talk.

 

12 The Inquiring Leader

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Sitting behind my desk this afternoon, I’m remembering that terrible day when I drafted my resignation letter from QTec. Months after that, when I was pretty sure I’d turned things around and was out of the woods, I got a call that unnerved me. My secretary buzzed and said that Alexa wanted me in her office right away — and “Bring that green folder with you” — I’d know what she was talking about. That sounded pretty ominous because the folder she described was the one that contained my resignation.

I dropped what I was doing, grabbed the folder, and started down the hall. Just as I raised my hand to knock on the big double doors of Alexa’s office, I heard voices inside, which made me even more concerned. Rattled by memories of that earlier visit, when I’d come with resignation in hand, my Judger started clamoring for attention. I steadied myself, took a deep breath, stepped into Learner, and tapped lightly on the door.

Seconds later, Alexa was greeting me with a friendly smile. As I stepped across the threshold I saw Joseph inside, sitting in the meeting area on one of the two sofas. As I approached he stood up and we shook hands warmly. I began to relax a little but still couldn’t make sense of the situation.

 

Question Th inking: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work

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In these pages, you’ll find the ten Question Thinking tools that Joseph introduced to Ben, in approximately the same order as they occur in the story. I’ve also included page references so you can refer back to see how Ben applied and benefited from each one. Each tool is an integral facet of the Question Thinking system, so you may notice that they overlap as well as complement one another. Most importantly, just as in developing any new skill, the more you use these tools, the more proficient you will become.

Many companies use the book, including the material in this Tools Section, as the basis for discussion groups focused on team collaboration, productivity, and innovation. Many also post copies of the Choice Map in their offices and meeting rooms. Another possibility is to use these tools to supplement some of the QT web-based learning offered by the Inquiry Institute.

As you learned through the story, QTec also make a positive difference for people in their personal lives, including with concerns about relationships, finances, health, and weight. Self-help groups, book clubs, and church groups actively use the ideas and principles in Change Your Questions, Change Your Life for study and guidance.

 

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