Asking a question is a revolutionary act. It’s what allows us to break out of the box and get to a higher level.
Often, a situation happens that we don’t account for: rather than being a black-and-white fact vs. opinion situation (i.e. “do you know that…?” or “what do you think of…?”), so often things lie in the middle. What about those times when you’re like, “what do you mean by…?”
We tend to ask questions only to verify that someone knows what we are talking about–or if we truly don’t know what they are talking about. But questions are such good tools for understanding and progress that we should be asking them much more, even when it might not be something we would normally do.
I want to emphasize that you don’t just have to ask questions when you don’t know something. Sometimes, you might already know the answer, but it’s nice to hear the other person say it so that you get a feeling of where they are coming from. And you might find that their answer is a bit different than yours, and bingo! Time for more questions!
Recently I was in a discussion involving the concepts of spirituality, religion, and dogma. It took hours to get to seeing that we were all basically saying the same things in different ways. Our definitions of these concepts were different; one person associated religion more with spirituality, and another associated it more with dogma. By not clarifying from the outset what religion meant to each of us, we debated things back and forth for hours that would have been saved if we had asked a few simple questions of each other.
The ability of questions to raise the level of dialogue is also very useful to remember. A relative of mine was once going to the hospital for repeated chest pains associated with an acid reflux condition. He complained that the doctor wasn’t giving him any answers. I said, “well, what questions are you asking?” and then encouraged him to write down a full list of questions he had, bring a pad and paper, and write down the answers–and then ask the further questions that were bound to come up. After doing this, the doctor was much more thorough in going through all the different factors involved in his condition; he found out much more about how it worked, and was a lot less nervous.
Finally, remember that when somebody doesn’t make sense to you, there is no point to continuing a conversation with them unless you ask them questions. You’ve seen/been a part of those knock-down drag-out arguments that go on forever and leave nobody satisfied, right? Usually, even after you feel like you’ve asked the necessary questions, you could ask more and get an even better response.
To sum up, when you ask a question,
- You open the door wide for communication. A question says, “I want to listen; I want to hear your side of things,” even better than that phrase itself, because it stops and waits for an answer, rather than just asking for one. If you think about it, it’s amazing how little people do that these days.
- You challenge those you ask to become active, to not remain passive and idle. A question fires up the motor in people’s minds, causing them to think, and thus to give you some help to get them to understand what you are thinking about.
- You open yourself to understand what appears nonsensical, or see how somebody else makes completely different sense than you out of something.
- You offer another angle on things, opening up people’s minds to different perspectives.
- You raise the level of thought in a conversation. We go from “punishing your children is necessary” to “when/how is punishing your children necessary?”
So ask away. Ask lots of questions. It’s a more useful tool than you probably realize.