How to ask questions that open up communication

Using the right questions can open up effective communication. These two major points can make all the difference.

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  • Good questions allow people to communicate with mutual understanding. Poor questions are offensive, create a defensive attitude, and shut down the interchange of ideas and solutions with those you love. So how does one learn to ask good questions?

  • Examine your intent

  • First, carefully consider your intent. Are you truly seeking to understand the other person? Are you seeking information you don't have? Are you trying to prove your point by using "Gotcha" questions? Are you trying to give the other person some hidden message with the question? Your intent, which shows in your eyes, voice inflection, and body posture, will expose you well before your words do.

  • Second, look at the type of question you are asking because it will give you clues as to your intent. "Why" questions such as "Why did you come home so late?" are often indirect ways of saying "Defend yourself." Anyway, "why" questions are often pointless. The best proof of the usual negative effect of "why" questions is found in the typical answers such questions generate: "Cuz," "I don't know," or a shrug of the shoulders. You’ll notice that “why” questions are usually coupled with the word “you” which results in focusing on the individual rather the event or happening.

  • Don’t include answers in the question

  • Another type of problem question is the question that contains the answer. "You’re feeling mad, aren't you?" "You really don't believe what you’re saying, do you?" "You agree with me, don't you?"

  • When dealing with couples where either the husband or wife does this, the other mate often thinks, "There is no reason to answer because he really doesn't want to know. His mind is already made up and he doesn't want my opinion. All he wants is for me to say what he wants to hear. " A child's response to such questions is much the same. It's a go-nowhere kind of conversation.

  • For example, let’s say your 12-year-old son comes home from school looking like a whipped pup. You ask what’s wrong. He mopes around awhile and then it finally comes out, “I failed that math test.” You knew he was going to have the test and the night before had reminded him several times to study, but he just kept putting it off, playing his video game instead. A litany of questions you’d like to ask flash through your mind: “Didn’t I tell you you’d fail if you didn’t study?” “Now do you see why it’s important to study?” Or you might take a gentler approach and say, “Don’t you think you would have done better if you had studied?”

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  • None of these work. They are all demeaning. The only thing they do is convince your son that he’s stupid, and he definitely doesn’t need anymore convincing of that; his test grade did the job just fine. So what kind of question do you ask? Remember, not one with the answer in it.

  • Before you ask any question, do a little validating — walk with him emotionally without trying to fix anything. Put yourself in his shoes. Have you ever failed at anything? It’s a rotten feeling. Give him a little hug and say something like, “It’s an awful feeling to fail a test. I know, son, I’ve failed before myself.” He will immediately be filled with unexplainable love for you. Let him share his disappointment, then ask, “What do you think will work next time?” Not “Don’t you think you’ll do better next time if you study?” That question has the answer in it. You might instead ask, “What do you think will work next time, son?” If he says, “I don’t know,” just say, “I’ll bet you’ll figure something out. If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.” That shows trust and confidence. You can bet he’s thinking, I’m going to study next time. However, if you say it, he’ll resist doing it.

  • Asking the right questions helps others feel respected and valued. Keep in mind that the solution to a problem lies within the person who has the problem. By using the right questions we can help them discover the solutions. In the process, true communication happens and feelings of love and respect will grow.

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Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Joy is a writer. Together they author books on relationships.

Website: http://garyjoylundberg.com

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