What Craig Sager Taught Me About The Art Of The Question

  • by , Columnist, December 20, 2016

The world, especially the sports world, lost an icon on Thursday in Craig Sager. The garishly dressed NBA sideline reporter captured the hearts of many for his valiant battle with cancer, but more importantly, captured the respect of many for what he did better than anyone else in his profession: ask the right questions.

For reporters, success hinges on the ability to ask the right questions. In every other profession, that ability plays an essential role as well. You may not see it on the surface, but how you ask questions and the content of those questions impacts your career more than you think.

Good Questions Require Preparation

Though we’re often told "there’s no such thing as a stupid question," that’s not entirely true. Whether you’re a sideline reporter, an attendee at a speech, or an employee sitting in on a meeting, you should have some baseline knowledge of the topic. If you don’t, then it’s on you to do your research.

When it’s your turn to ask a question, you should be armed with that research as well as your comprehension of the current event. It’s your time to gain a deeper understanding of the topic, not waste the time of others by asking them to repeat themselves.

Those who ask the great questions not only help themselves, but those around them to gain a deeper understanding. Sager made his living from asking not the face value questions, but ones that evoked intriguing and engaging responses. His confidence and wherewithal to ask those questions is due to preparation.

Good Questions Earn Respect

People just don’t have time to answer questions anymore. It’s the sad and unfortunate truth. Part of that is due to people repeatedly asking the wrong questions.

So what constitutes a good question? Let’s start by one that shows you’ve done your homework. If you’re watching a basketball game, asking a coach how his team can improve in the second half isn’t going to yield an insightful answer.

If you want better results, ask something like this:

“Once you switched to a zone defense, your team started to respond with some turnovers and transition baskets. How can you keep that momentum going in the second half?”

Not only does this question provide some prompts, but it shows your interest and attention to what’s going on around you. Trust me when I tell you that your superiors notice when you ask probing questions. It’s a good look!

Good Questions Better Everyone

No one has the answers to everything. If they did, there would be no reason for leaders to employ so many people. Even the great coaches and CEOs have an extra set of eyes to examine the landscape. Without their insight and probing questions, things fall through the cracks and aren’t addressed.

Chris Webber, former NBA all-star and current TNT commentator, shared a story recently about how Sager helped him improve as a professional.

“When I first started doing the games…if [Craig] had something, he’d be like, ‘Did you see this over here; did you see this over there?’ I don’t think people really understood the great questions he asked. He pressed the issue.”

It may not seem like much, but having someone to ask real questions and provide a new perspective on things makes all the difference. When I write each article, I value the questions my editor asks and the insight he or she can add. When you have someone to question you, the bigger picture comes into greater focus.

Wrapping Up

Sager not only asked great questions to coaches and players, but to his fellow teammates. Sure, this is only a small thing to take away from his life, but a valuable one you can apply to both your personal and professional lives. To quote Claude Levi-Strauss, “The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”

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