Clarifying questions are risky.
Let’s face it: no one wants to ask a dumb question. Especially not in front of potentially-judgmental peers.
Still, however, clarifying questions serve a very important function in classrooms and workplaces.
So, for those who have the willingness to try, listen up.
Why ask a clarifying question?
Most questions simply ask for more information on a general subject matter, but clarifying questions force the teacher to dig deeper into a previous statement. By returning back to previous subject matter, a number of scenarios can arise:
- The teacher restates their assertion, usually in a slightly different way than the first time. If you or anyone else was confused, hearing the point again will help clear it up.
- The teacher adds more to their statement to avoid redundancy. This may add new, relevant detail to the subject matter that deepens the audience’s understanding.
- The teacher either knows no more on a subject or they know a lot more. In this way, asking a clarifying question can often measure a speaker’s grasp of a concept. It’s important to assess the knowledge level of a speaker to know how trustworthy their information is and how closely you should follow their advice.
In each case, the speaker is forced to think more critically about their words and the listeners gain new understanding.
An extra benefit of clarifying questions?
Another benefit is that, if you really pay attention to what the teacher says and you craft a thoughtful clarifying question, the teacher knows that you’ve paid attention to what they’ve said. This creates a connection.
And this advice applies in almost any scenario. By assuring the teacher, interviewer, manager, or whomever you ask the question that you have weighed their words, they will be more likely to remember you and have a good impression of you.
How NOT to ask a clarifying question
There are some times when clarifying questions should be avoided, delayed, or modified.
- Clarifying questions should never ruin the flow of a lesson. Make sure to find an appropriate gap to ask your question.
- The question should never be off-topic. Only ask questions that are relevant to the material being covered in class.
- Never ask a clarifying question to point out an error. Clarifying questions should only be used to bridge gaps in comprehension.
Especially in a lengthy, linear lesson, a clarifying question will do everyone a favor by switching up the flow a little bit. Often a precise clarifying question can be just as effective in advancing a conversation as any well-supported argument.
Clarifying questions are undoubtedly useful. Once you feel comfortable that you’ve created a question that fits the criteria listed above, go for it. You’ll learn more, you’ll understand material more clearly, and in the process you may make some important connections.
Want me to clarify anything in this article? Ask a question in the comments below.