“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” –Voltaire
This wise saying challenges us to develop the skill of crafting good questions. As human beings, it is in our natural curiosity to want answers, but how do we arrive at these answers without good questions? Within a study to find best practice strategies for effective use of questions as a teaching tool, a well-crafted question is define to “lead to new insights, generate discussion, and promote the comprehensive exploration of subject matter” while poorly constructed questions “can stifle learning by creating confusion, intimidating students, and limiting creative thinking” (Tofade, Elsner, & Haines, 2013). Asking a question is a powerful tool that can open a window for us to better understand others and encourage others to share their insightful wisdom. Questions can give an individual the confidence to openly share a piece of himself or herself just as easily as they can scare and intimidate an individual to shut down. We have the ability to empower others to speak up and find their own voice through the art of asking questions. The active effort to formulate questions that stimulate the ability for others to feel safe and open, rather than feel attacked and closed off is a way we dignify others and create a safe space to share their story.
Through a social work lens, a question that comes to mind is: What are ways that we can learn to ask questions that empower others to be their own advocate and feel safe to share their personal story? Beyond the technicalities of learning different types of questions and analyzing research that supports particular question asking techniques, it is valuable to first begin with self-reflection and understanding the motive and tone behind our questions. It is important for others to know that we are genuine and sincere through our questions. Within the professional world of working with others, where we often have standard protocol questions, it is easy to fall into a robotic routine and ask questions with the motive and tone to just get the job done vs. caring for the needs of the individual. This motive seeps through our interaction with others and can be a lost moment of allowing for a person to feel seen and heard. Our daily human interactions are full of moments where we can make the conscious decision to allow others to recognize that what they have to say is valued and respected. Take these two questions for example: “What have you done in your life?” vs. “What are some accomplishments in life that you are proud of?” Both of these questions are seeking out similar answers, but will elicit different levels of openness in response. The first question can feel intimidating while the second question offers an openness to listen to what is valuable to the individual.
As I personally embark on my journey as a social worker, I have found it valuable to be aware of my tone and motives when I work with my clients and have noticed a pivotal impact in my conversations and relationships. Some questions that I have found valuable to reflect with as I prepare myself to work with clients are:
- How do I ask questions that draw out the good in a person?
- How do I get people to share themselves more genuinely by the way I phrase my questions?
- What should the motive and intentions of my questions be rooted in?
- How do I ask questions that don’t make people feel “looked down upon” when they answer?
- How do I ask questions that help others better understand a difficult situation and their own feelings about it?
- How do I ask questions that leave the other knowing that I genuinely want to know and care for them better?
- How do I ask a question that exudes the presence of love?
These are questions that can be applied in both a professional and personal setting that I hope others find useful to reflect on as we move towards a movement to empower others with respect and dignity.
Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S. T. (2013). Best Practice Strategies for Effective Use of Questions as a Teaching Tool. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 77(7), 155. doi: 10.5688/ajpe777155
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