In this guest post, John Stoker, author of Overcoming Fake Talk, shows us ways to ask questions that will improve relationships and generate mutual respect.  Check out his video on YouTube!

Discovery is one of the most powerful of all the dialogue skills. Asking questions helps us to explore, understand, clarify and deepen our understanding of others and their ideas. It’s also the easiest way to create respect. Unfortunately, many use questions to make their point rather than to truly inquire for the sake of increasing their understanding.

For example, have you ever heard someone ask something like, “Why is the light on in your bathroom?” or “Why are there two cans of cat food open in the fridge?” Although you might not answer either of these questions out loud, you would probably answer them in your head in this manner: “The light is on because I turned it on, stupid!” or “There are two open cans of cat food because I didn’t know I had an open one in the fridge, duh!”

The person who asks questions in this manner probably believes that making statements such as, “I need you to turn off the lights in the bathroom when you are done,” or “Before you open a can of cat food, I’d like you to make sure that there isn’t one that is already open,” is too direct.

And yet, most of us would probably identify that asking questions for which the answer is obvious is not only disrespectful but also tremendously demeaning.

I have noticed a variety of different disrespectful questions that are asked that do more harm than good. Consider some of the ways questions are used as a disguised “tell” rather than a real “ask.” Note the purpose and the question:

Purpose Question
Attach judgment “Did you know that . . . ?”
Criticize effort “Why did you do it like that?”
Give Advice “Shouldn’t you have . . . ?”
Assign Blame “Are you the one that messed this up?”
Make a point “How did you think that would ever work?”

 

Rather than be confronted with these questions, most of us would rather simply be told that our performance or behavior could be improved with an explanation or rationale for the change. No one likes to be led down the road of discovery and be ambushed in the process. Questions used in this manner feel more like manipulation than they do like discovery.

What Should You Do?

Sometimes these questions come out because we haven’t prepared to hold the conversation. Such questions are the raw expression of what we are thinking and feeling and generally don’t say.  Here are a few suggestions:

Recognize You Don’t Know Everything

What is obvious to you may not be obvious to others and vice versa. Developing a real “spirit of curiosity” will go a long way in understanding others and helping you to increase your perspective.

Ask the “Right” Questions

The “right” questions are the questions that will get you the answers that you seek. Preparing such questions takes time and thought. If you don’t know what you want, then the randomness of your questions will reflect that, and you won’t get the answers you seek.

Focus on the Future

Sometimes the questions that are asked focus on what went wrong in the past. There is nothing wrong with trying to understand “what” went wrong; however, don’t forget to ask questions that move people into the future, such as, “What would you do differently next time?” or “How do you think our execution  could be improved?” These questions move people out of what didn’t go well in anticipation of making positive improvements and changes.

Check Your Results

Oftimes our results are a reflection of the questions we asked or didn’t ask. When we ask questions, we invite people to reveal themselves. Asking yourself some questions about the questions you ask or the quality of your results could prove to be quite revealing. Use your results as the reflection of your directions and the questions you asked.

Hopefully, you’ll ask questions in an attempt to learn, grow, clarify, and increase your understanding, not to demean or belittle the individual. Asking questions really does create respect while increasing your understanding and that of your listener. Taking the time to ask the “right” questions will pay big dividends. Good Luck!

To visit his blog go to www.dialogueworks.com.