Questions: ask thoughtfully, respond objectively

I have to confess. When someone asks me anything that questions my thinking or decisions, I have to get over an immediate response of resistance before I can hear the question objectively.

I think I’m able to get over that speed bump pretty well most of the time, but the resistance is almost always there. It can show up when big questions come my way, like “what’s the mission of your business?” but also in smaller questions like “why didn’t you add more paprika?”

This has been a big part of my growth in self-awareness, to try to catch this defensiveness when it shows up, and if not eliminate it, at least get past it quickly so I can engage healthily.

When I feel attacked by someone’s questions, I’ve learned that this is mostly on me – that the question probably wasn’t intended as an attack, but I just took it that way.

I also experience this phenomenon from the other side – the side of the person asking the question. I know that some questions to my clients are perceived minimally as annoyances and, at times, as outright attacks. I know as well that once someone feels attacked, the learning stops.

Honest questions have to be a part of any good relationship, business or otherwise, so I know that they’re sometimes the best way to get to the heart of the matter, to challenge a stodgy thought process or to bring a new perspective. But my questions got me into trouble a few times, even when I asked questions that I thought were in the respondent’s best interests.  

And of course, some questions are attacks. “You couldn’t have thought of anything better than that?” isn’t a question.

From both perspectives – the one being questioned and asking the question, we must be aware that questions are freighted with potential emotions and have to be asked thoughtfully and responded to objectively.

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Sarah Thomson

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