In college, I was a social work major and one of the most impactful classes of my college career was the one where we learned how to appropriately and effectively interview clients during a therapy session. The first day of class, I walked into the classroom and reluctantly found a seat. To be honest, I was dreading this course. My anxiety was sky-rocketing at the sheer thought of interviewing a classmate (or being interviewed, for that matter) in front of the entire class.
Besides, how hard could this be? I wondered as I listened to the professor review the class syllabus. It’s just asking questions!
I was young and more than a little naïve, and apparently equated professionally interviewing a client to asking my best friend about her weekend plans.
Do you know why asking questions is not as easy as it seems? Because it is not just about asking questions. It’s about asking the right question to get to the information you need. It’s about your tone and body language and choosing the best words. It’s not about the questions; it’s about how to best get to know the client.
Little did I know, as a twenty-year-old pouting about speaking in front of the class for a final exam that this class would teach me valuable skills I would use for the rest of my life. This class taught me how to ask questions–and how to not ask questions.
Let’s face it: there is a bad way to ask questions. Insensitive language and ignorant questions can hijack a productive conversation and send it careening into the flames of defensive anger. You know, questions like these:
- Is your marriage legal everywhere? Like even in other states?
- Couldn’t they have another tagline? Something more inclusive, like “All Lives Matter”?
- What religion allows women to be ordained as clergy?
Ouch. These are some cringe-worthy examples.
But the whole point in asking questions is to learn, you may be thinking. If I’m asking about something I know nothing about, how do I know if my question is offensive?
This is a fair point, and I am going to give you the same advice my professor gave me: “Ask kind questions with curiosity.”
Kind questions don’t feel like ammunition. Kind questions are asked from a place of curiosity, not positioned to take down an opponent. Questions asked with curiosity communications a desire to learn instead of a need to be heard. Kind questions asked with curiosity begin conversations rather than ending them.
I believe kind, productive conversations are the basis of creating an inclusive Church, so it makes sense to prioritize the skill of asking good questions.
The next time you find yourself wanting to ask questions of someone different than you, consider these points:
- Am I asking to better understand, or to “win” this conversation?
- Could I find the answer to this question by doing my own research on this topic?
- Is there a kinder way to ask this?
What kind, curious questions do you have?
Let me know in the comments below!