Sometimes three-year-old children “get it” better than adults. Most three-year-old kids pass through a stage in which 90% of their speech consists of a single word question, “Why?” My grandson seemed to get stuck in this stage for several years, though in reality, it was probably only ten or twelve days. The stage was probably fueled half by curiosity and half by a desire for adult attention, but it illustrated something that adults should do more of in our quest to be better. We should do more questioning.
Every individual has a base of knowledge, experience, beliefs, and opinions. That base is unique to each individual. Each base includes its share of flaws and misconceptions. That is simply our humanness showing itself. We can expand our own base by probing the bases of other individuals and questioning is our tool of choice for that. We can read articles and even take courses to learn effective questioning techniques, but often a simple, “Why?” will be the most effective tool of all.
Of course there are times when we need to drill-down in our questioning to touch a specific point. But when someone makes a broad statement or provides an opinion, our one-word question opens the door to a more honest explanation. We will learn more and perhaps see a truer picture of the person’s base. Anything more than one word in our question can steer the response to what the person thinks we want to hear.
Some people will respond by opening the flood gates of their soul while others will be more reserved or even suspicious of our motives. From those who are not forthcoming, their response can reveal much. A response such as, “Why do you want to know?” can be an indicator that the person does not trust the questioner. It can also indicate that the person is unsure of the questioner’s agreement with the statement or opinion and does not want to offend or cause conflict. It can also indicate that the person is trying to delay responding to provide a few more seconds to formulate the response.
A person may also respond to our query by saying something similar to, “Don’t you agree?” The questioner’s response should be something like, “I am just trying to see your reasoning.” The idea here is for the questioner to respond with as few words as possible so as to avoid providing a hint of any desired response.
Most people will not resist our one-word question and will be rather open. Most people would rather talk than listen, so by opening a dialog and stepping back, we can usually learn much more from another person’s base and therefore expand our own base.
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