Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Basics to the art of asking questions

Okay, I thought I would have just two other posts in this series on questions, but I felt I needed another quick one before those. So, here we go on some of the basics that I have learned (some recently, and some years ago) in the art of asking questions.

Avoid questions that only require a yes or no answer. Obviously these have their place, but in most of our conversation, if we really want to learn something valuable from the other person a question like, "Did you have fun?" isn't really going to get us anywhere.

Use fewer, or better yet completely avoid, rhetorical questions. If kids get used to not answering your questions (Bill Cosby's Fatherhood sketch comes to mind here . . . ) they will generally just keep their mouths shut and wait for you to stop talking so they know they can leave.

Sometimes answer a question with a question. Keep them thinking, keep the conversation flowing, keep moving deeper.

Don't feel the need to jump on dead air. As a teacher I remember being told to allow 5-6 seconds for volunteers to respond. That seems like a lot of empty time (count in your head -- 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, etc.), but sometimes they really need those few seconds to process their thoughts. I now do the same in talking with my kids. Rather than jumping right in with another question or explanation, I give them at least those few seconds to begin to process the information if not formulate a response.

Eye contact. I've got to look like I really care, too. Sometimes I need to stop scrubbing that pan or folding the laundry and make sure they know that I am really in this conversation.

Repeat back and clarify. When they do give an answer make sure you understand and even ask a further question to get further details and verify you are on the same page.

Just some basics I try to have down and make a habit of before moving to more involved questioning.

Any other great rules or tips for meaningful conversations in general, or asking questions specifically?


MommaMindy said...

Sometimes at dinner or in the car, my husband will ask each of the kids a thought-provoking question and have them each answer. It might be their opinion on a Bible verse, their best memory of a family event, what they learned about a situation our family experienced. It is really a blessing to hear how each child's experience/opinion was so different.

Thanks for dropping by my blog today, I appreciate the encouragement!

5intow said...


Thank you for the thoughts on asking questions. I love the inspiration to take advantage of those unplanned times to really connecting. I also appreciate the ideas for questions. I'm working on building my arsenal to be more intentional in this area.

Thank you!