September 24, 2019 ~ 2 min read

Mental models make better questions

Weekly TipsSpeaking

Continuing on the theme from the last few days about asking questions, let's talk for a minute about how to ask better questions.

We talked yesterday about how uncomfortable it can be asking simple or "dumb" questions, and the fact that most of the time we're over-adjusting and should ask our questions anyway.

But how can we take it a step further and ask particularly good questions?

We're often told we should ask questions in interviews and other setting. There are whole lists about "smart questions to ask a hiring manager" and "10 perfect questions to ask on a first date", but what's the common theme?

Mental Models

I think the key shared idea behind what makes all of these good questions is they're all focused around trying to build up a better mental model.

In an interview, good questions are those that will help you build up a model for what it would be like to work there, what the company is actually trying to accomplish, and what you'd be able to do to help them.

On a first date, good questions are those that help you build a model for who this person really is, and if they're a good match for you.

Applying to new situations

The great thing about knowing this common theme is that you now have a recipe for asking good questions in any situation.

Want to ask better questions at work meetings? Try to fit any new information into your model for how the business works, and ask questions that fill in the gaps. "How will this interact with our existing systems?" or "What are the business implications of this project?"

Want to ask better questions of your kids? Same thing — keep building a mental model for how their world works, and ask questions that fill in the gaps.

Want to ask good questions of a mentor or teacher? Try to build up a mental model of everything they're teaching you, and ask questions that fill in the gaps.

... Any questions? ;) Don't hesitate to reply and ask me.

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Kevin Ball

Hi, I'm Kevin Ball (alias KBall). I'm a software engineer turned trainer and coach focused on communication and leadership skills. You can follow me on Twitter, or check out my software-focused work at