Do You Listen Passively? Do You Interrogate or Ask Non-threatening Questions?

Conversation, dialogue or discussion in seeking to understand is an art. It requires the graceful balance between patiently listening without judgment plus gentle discernment in tandem with asking non-threatening questions. It requires humility and acceptance.

The minute we ask a question, we are often pursuing an agenda. It could be a general inconsequential inquiry or we might be on a mission to probe to find answers to our own investigations on a topic. The critical question to ask is:

 Is my question crossing the personal intimacy boundary of the other person?

If this question crosses a personal boundary of another, the question can quickly be interpreted as threatening and shut the conversation down. This excellent article coaches us through comprehensive strategies in effectively finding a comfortable balance in asking questions.

Once conflict begins, the art of asking questions becomes more challenging. Escalating tension within one party’s mind can quickly shut down a person’s openness to responding to a question that otherwise might have been perceived as comfortable and acceptable. Trust is shaken. The wading into warm bonding might quickly reverse. As such, it is important that we accept that we have overstepped the comfort level of the other person, refrain from judgment and gently change the direction of the questions.

Often when discussing things with my mother, I found myself feeling interrogated. In all fairness, especially given my role as a mother, I can now see that she was in all likelihood coming from a place of fear and protection. Reflecting, I can see how the nature of her questions was very direct, which triggered my defensiveness. From her perspective, she was showing interest. From my perspective, she was invading my privacy and judging. Boom! The confrontation ignited and we were jumping in verbal punch swinging!

What could we both have done differently? Along with following some of the suggestions offered in the previously mentioned article, I believe the simple question of each other, “What three things can I do for you?” may have helped break misunderstandings and build a sense of concrete actions of support. What are the benefits of asking this simple question?

  1. Options. By offering three things that someone can do for you you are giving the other person the choice of choosing one or all of the possible supports.
  2. Support. The question directly offers a hand of support and disarms anyone feeling attacked.
  3. Open-ended. You are allowing the recipient to choose how or if they want your support. The ball is in their court not under your control.

I believe had my mother and I articulated this question more, we both may have felt a deeper level of support and acceptance.

We all want to feel heard. Furthermore, once we are heard, we feel valued when support is offered with respect paid to our personal boundaries and comfort levels. The art of sharing through conversation and discussion pivots on the balance of listening and questioning. It boils down to patiently surrendering to seeking to support and understand rather than being understood.