As a five-year old leaving the dental office, my mom recalls me asking, “Did you know that lady in the waiting room?” As mom endures my interrogation about talking with strangers, she starts to imagine her daughter as a future lawyer.
This yes/no line of questioning provides a sense of security to my young self, as I cling to notions about how things should and should not be.
As a mock trial student and young attorney, cross-examination seems a bit exciting. Asking closed questions to point out flaws and inconsistencies plays a role in being a zealous advocate.
These questions seem less helpful in families and organizations. Imagine what it feels like when someone asks, “Did you _____________?” or “have you _______________?” These closed questions often close off communication. They sometimes weaken or damage relationships.
For the illusion of efficiency, you might sometimes ask those questions. Yet, asking closed questions, and receiving “yes” or “no” answers really offers little to no insight into a situation. It becomes the illusion of efficiency because saving time short-term may cost time and energy later. This does not even account for the impact of cross-examinations on morale, productivity, relationships, and the bottom line.
The quality of the questions you ask determines the quality of understanding. When you engage in dialogue with “What”, “tell me about”, “say more” or “help me understand,” you invite fuller responses. By inquiring inquisitively, you invite connective communication.
Inquiring inquisitively increases the exchange of information. It allows you connect at a deeper level. It opens space for sharing. Inquiring inquisitively builds trust.
While a cross-examination from a five-year old may be kind of cute, it is still a little annoying. The latter also holds true for adults. Whether asking or answering, questions from a place of wonder and genuine curiosity simply feel better.
My five-year-old self does not realize the intricacies of when it is appropriate to talk with strangers. My yes or no question fails to address the reason for talking with someone in a waiting room.
Humans have reasons for doing what they do and saying what they say.
My fifty-year-old self understands that life goes much deeper than should and should not. By drawing such lines, we miss opportunities to understand ourselves and the people around us.
Some reasons may be more or less acceptable. Yet, discovering and uncovering those reasons often provides valuable insight.
To learn what lies beneath the goings on and build greater connections, what if you consider inquiring inquisitively?
What types of questions help you feel safe and comfortable in responding?
What dialogue styles help you increase understanding?
What steps will you take to inquire inquisitively?