Are questions better than statements?
Of course, the “right” answer is “yes.” Which is precisely the challenge of asking questions: We think we already know the answer. I admit it. I often do.
When I do, my arrogance spews observations as judgements (This can be especially true with family or others close to me. Ugh.). My narrow-mindedness is expressed as nothing more than biting accusation dressed up as "truth-telling." And my claim to “truth” leads me to directives and corrections with little room for push-back or open human-to-human dialog. This confession is no fun. Enough.
Surely I'm not alone in this.
Look at your own relationships and interactions. In how many conversations - in your workplace, on your team, in your church, in your home - do you actually ask questions? Meaningful questions. Too often our dialogs are a back-and-forth exchange of statements we already share with each other. We craft questions to draw out our common stance. After all, it feels good to have a shared position or perspective with someone else. We’re grateful to not be alone in the matter. Is this wasted dialog? Not always. But it is way too often. Too often, our mutual articulation of what we already “know” doesn’t invite honest exploration of what may exist beyond or in place of that we’re already convinced of. We're frankly not the learners we think we are.
When we do ask questions, we often use them, not to cultivate conversation, but to create a platform for us to persuasively present, declare and state what we hold as true. People need the truth; we intend to tell it. We expect everyone will be or should be converted to our way of thinking because we already hold the “answer” to be true. In this case, we’re not really asking a question so people can think, dig and wrestle with the challenge. We disallow other thinking humans to actually think…for themselves.
Maybe that's a scary proposition: giving others the freedom to actually think for themselves. They don't know what we already know. We must tell them. They can't be trusted to wrestle, think, push-back and even ask new questions as any human being is created to do. Who knows where that thinking and line of questioning will go? The risk, of course, is that we may not be able to control where it goes. And maybe that's a key factor: our grip on control.
Our control prevents people from developing and becoming. Rather, when we dare to ask questions that encourage personal investment and honest digging, we set the stage for growth, honesty and ownership.
- When the plan doesn’t go as planned, what’s your response? Do you have an explanation that deters questions away from the potential problem? Do you jump in with blame? Do you rush in with answers that keep your ego and reputation intact?
- What if we allowed the failed plan to force us to quality questions that didn’t seek blame, but perspective.
- What if we invited others to ask questions that we’re afraid to voice? Questions that didn’t chase easy answers, but long-term learning.
- When tragedy strikes - death, physical harm, damaging acts of nature - do you have a ready answer based in empty assurances and/or religious beliefs intended to “make sense” of it all?
- What if tragedy and chaos gave way to wrestling with what we thought was true before the devastation?
- What if we asked questions about what we held deeply as truth?
- What if we allowed the pain to settle into places within us where real questions have been covered by safe absolutes, or worse, by comforting denial - a refusal to give way to the pain itself?
Maybe it’s worth exploring… in the boardroom, at the dinner table, in the church service, in our marriage or partnership...
- How do you respond to questions for which immediate answers don’t exist?
- What questions do you avoid asking related to your motivation, drive and passion?
- What question recently birthed insight you previously lacked?
- What are you allowing to be questioned that has seemed “off limits” in the past?
- When did you last hear a question that stopped you in your tracks and challenged you to wrestle with it?
- Who are you intentionally spending time with because their questions don’t allow you to rehearse the same answers?
- What have you questioned out loud that has sparked conversation that moves past rhetoric and “known” responses?
Are questions better than statements?