Good Question

Good Question

As any self-respecting 5 year old can tell you, questioning is a valuable communication tool.

But for many people, the use of this device seems to fall off as we get older. One complication is the perception of the question as an attack.

“Have you had lunch?”

“Why do you ask?”

Fear of defensiveness blocks many a good question. Speakers can get really tangled in how to phrase a query so it sounds like a simple request for information, and not a prelude to a Gotcha!

More fear: will I sound stupid? To avoid this, sometimes a statement is used in hopes that (unasked for) information will be forthcoming:

“Well that presentation was worthless,” instead of “Do you know what he was talking about?”

With Defensiveness and Fear of Looking Bad leading the way, the use of the question, in which we reach out to another, is often replaced with the more protected statement.

With so many valuable uses for the question, it’s a shame that it doesn’t get more use. Consider these situations:

– To learn: “What are the main ingredients in a magic potion?”

– To show interest: “How do you get them to stick to the wall like that?.”

– To arouse interest: “Don’t you love how it just disappears?

– To clarify: “Did you like the ones with the horns or the ones with spikes?”

– To get feedback: “Did you like the design I drew on your computer?”

– To get agreement: “Don’t you love the shorts with the sparkles?”

– To disagree: “Can I show you another way to wear your tutu?”

– To keep the talker talking: (This is extremely useful if you don’t feel like talking; don’t know what’s going on; feel too shy to join in. “Can you tell me more about your trip to the planetarium?”

– To ask advice or favors: “Would you show me how to use the wand and the fairy dust?”

– To avoid: “What would you do with it? Why don’t you ask Glenda?”

Now go back and read these situations, and instead of forming a question for each one, make a statement. For example, “I would like to know….”; “I wonder how….”; “I like the ones….” A difference between using a statement and using a question is that a statement is about you- the speaker, and a question involves the other person.

If we’re willing to work at crafting a question that can be received without defending, and to risk being seen as vulnerable enough not to know everything, I guess one question to ask is, “Do I want this communication to be about me, or do I want it to be about both of us?”

Good question.