In delivering communication skills training workshops to various groups over the past fifteen years, I came to depend on the following funny story to illustrate how the way people ask a question can determine the answers they get. I labeled this questioning technique, "The Monk's Method."
Two monks were praying, walking and talking as they do all day long. The junior monk said to the senior monk. "I'm surprised you're allowed to smoke while walking around and praying here in the monastery my dear brother. When I joined the monastery I asked our Head Monk about smoking and his answer was a resounding no. How come you are able to smoke with no problem? The senior monk smiled and said, "Am I right to assume, my dear brother, that you asked the Head Monk whether it was alright for you to smoke while praying? "Yes," said the junior monk. "I asked him whether it was alright for me to smoke while praying, and he looked at me disapprovingly and said, "Of course not. I'm surprised you would even ask."
"Ah!," exclaimed the senior monk. "You didn't know how to ask my dear brother. It all depends on how you put it. When I joined the monastery, I too asked the Head Monk about smoking, but in a slightly different manner. I asked him: "Dear Master, Is it alright for me to pray while smoking?" And he said, "But of course my son. You can pray anytime."
In asking questions, as well as in all other aspects of communication, it's not what you say that counts, but how you say it.