Have you ever been frustrated during an intense conversation? Dumb question, I know. Of course we all have encountered the frustration. Not the best question to begin a blog on the topic of asking good questions. The reason I started with that question is because it is often the type of question we ask; it only requires a “yes” or “no” answer not to mention it’s a question we already know the answer to.
In my ministry as a pastor I work with people on a daily basis and often times I sit with folks who are trying desperately to communicate their thoughts and feelings but sometimes lack the vocabulary to do so. They also struggle with clarifying what it is that is actually going on in their minds, feelings or life. Good questions are very important in helping a person come to some clarity in order to better understand. It’s good for me and them.
Asking good questions is almost an art form in my opinion. I know some people who are amazing at it leaving me thinking, “I wish I would have asked that question.” But there are many many people who don’t think of asking questions in regular communication. I’m not talking about basic questions like, “How was your day at work?” or “Did you get your homework done?” I’m talking about well-phrased, intentional, smart questions that open people up to get to the heart of the matter. For many of us, we prefer to “tell” rather than “ask”, give our opinion rather than ask for others’.
When I’m coaching small group leaders and also people who come into my office for counsel, I will often ask how they might ask thought provoking, information grabbing questions within their particular context. With small group leaders, it is not enough to merely follow the questions in the curriculum, but if one is ACTIVELY LISTENING to the others in the group, you may ask other questions to help move your group deeper as their responses unfold and open new doors in the conversation. I have watched as smart, thoughtful questions have helped members of a group wrestle through a member’s difficult situation, or help the group decide on mission together. Many leaders tell me that thinking about how to ask good questions also keeps them focused as active listeners to the other nuances going on in the group.
Good questions help us maximize serendipitous moments for the overall benefit of the group. We believe, or at least I hope you do, that the Holy Spirit is active and at work when we meet together so we need to be ready for anything. What do you do when someone begins to open up with something deep and personal for the first time? How do you respond? If it’s not part of the curriculum what do you do; just say, “thanks for sharing” and move on? I certainly hope not. When someone in your group is obviously negative or antagonistic at a gathering do you just think, “Wow, they’re in a bad mood. I wonder what’s got their goat?” and not ask for clarification? I hope not. What if that person has something serious going on or is silently stewing over something someone in the group or the group said or did? Questions, questions, questions. ASK THEM!
If you’re a leader of a small group, I encourage you to keep a small pad of paper and pen with you so you can jot down other smart questions to ask your group members as the discussion or conversation lends itself. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you’ll forget and lose the moment.
How to Ask Smart Questions is an article I stumbled across that you might find valuable too. It’s by Steve Snyder, professor of Humanities at Grand View University in Des Moines Iowa.
Remember, the only dumb question is the one not asked.
How are you at asking smart questions?