Norton: The answers can be found in the questions and how we ask them (column)
Here we are back in full swing of a new school year. My guess would be that many of you reading this column have already asked the question, “Did you do your homework?” And you probably heard something like a short and muffled “no” or a “yes” that didn’t sound quite convincing.
The question itself is not wrong — we all would like to inspect what we expect when it comes to homework — but it could be the way we ask the question or the tonality we use when asking the question. Instead of just asking if they did their homework, try something like this, “Tell me more about your homework tonight. Is there a subject or assignment I can help you with?” Now we don’t want to do their homework for them, yet taking a guiding or helpful role that doesn’t undermine their ability or their vision to complete the assignment is usually accepted.
Sometimes we believe we already know the answers — if you don’t believe us, then just ask us. But the best part about asking questions when we believe we already know the answer is that it gives the other person a chance to share their opinion and it also shows them respect.
Asking questions also helps us to stay out of arguments that are fueled by anger or prejudice of any kind. If we sense that we may not be on the same page when it comes to our opinions, then we never have to arm wrestle anyone or place a stake in the ground about our own position or point of view.
We can easily make that known calmly, professionally and politely by asking questions instead of espousing our opinions or drawing any kind of line in the sand. Is there a place for a good old-fashioned debate? Absolutely, but if you watch great debates, then the person who typically wins is the person who asks the best questions in return or asks clarifying questions so that they know how to respond or answer.
Sometimes when I hear about relationships suffering, I often hear that one person has stated their position or opinion and even possibly an ultimatum; definitely not the best recipe for discussing something as important as the future of a relationship. Instead of stating something in a demanding or inconsiderate way, maybe something like, “I work all day, too, I cook the dinner and I wash the clothes. I really need you to step up and do something.” (Expletives excluded intentionally.)
What if it sounded differently, “Can I ask you a question? With my heavy workload, I could really use some help around the house. I know you work hard, too, but is there something you can do to help me or something we can do together that would make things easier on both of us around here?”
Building on the thought of asking questions in relationships, think about each time we make that simple yet so very powerful statement, “I love you.” Here is what it might sound like in question form, “Do you know why I love you?” Most humble and normal people would respond with, “I think so, but tell me more.” And now we have an opportunity to put even greater depth and meaning behind our “I love you” statement.
Using questions instead of statements will usually result in more meaningful conversations and provide so much more clarity and insights. And, by the way, when we ask questions instead of making statements that can be challenged, most people will think we are the smartest people in the room.
So how about you, are you used to just sharing your opinion or making a statement first? Or do you make it a best practice of asking questions first and asking the right questions that would reveal your position and point of view? Either way, I would love to hear all about it at firstname.lastname@example.org. And when we can find the answers we seek through the right questions, it really will be a better than good week.
Michael Norton is a former resident of Edwards, the past president of the Zig Ziglar Corp., strategic consultant and business and personal coach.