The Value of a Good Question
I still remember the question. I remember where I was, and what we were doing when he asked it. Struggling with a relationship where I barely knew the young lady, a friend of mine asked, “Are you thinking about marrying her?” “Marry her?” Of course not. I hardly knew her, but when he asked that question, it was as if part of the struggle was lifted. Someone had taken me and the issue seriously. I still remember the question. I still remember the event.
Many years later, a good friend of mine would repeatedly teach me the value of a good question. Having done consulting for much of his life, he would continually try to formulate just the right question. The kind of question that might bring clarity, communicate understanding, build bridges to others and help them see. He understood the value of a good question.
Questions communicate many things in relationships. They communicate a desire to understand the other person and they place the focus squarely on this person when they are asked sincerely. They let the other person know that someone is truly listening and in the process they communicate an incredible sense of value. The funny thing about questions is that they really don’t even have to be on point if they are asked sincerely with a genuine concern for someone else.
Often times in conversation, someone will say something, and then someone else will offer their opinion about what was said. Their opinion may agree or disagree with what has just been said, but the problematic thing about their opinion is that it is focused squarely on what they think and not the other person. These opinion statements often communicate a sense of judgment, and judgment shuts down conversation. Questions do just the opposite. They seek to further understanding and keep dialogue alive.
Tucked away in the book of Proverbs is a quick little statement that relates well to questions. The writer of Proverbs states, “He who answers before listening — that is folly and his shame.” Proverbs 18:13.
How do you listen before answering?
By asking questions.
What is the alternative?
Folly and shame.
The proverb tells us it is foolish and shameful to answer before listening well. Foolish for a number of reasons. We haven’t taken the time to hear the issue with its varied nuances. We haven’t taken time to truly value the other person. We haven’t taken the time to help them hear themselves so they can process the issue and grow personally. It’s as if we think the most important thing is our answer for their situation. Here it is. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.
Ever wonder why good counselors ask questions? They do it to better understand the other person and their situation, but of greater importance is helping the other person better understand themselves and their situation. That’s when growth occurs and this growth is of greater concern than merely moving the issue forward.
When thinking about how God deals with us, His primary concern is always our relationship with Him. God can solve any problem, and He can do it instantly. He could remove us from trouble, but most of the time He doesn’t. Why doesn’t He? So that we might gain understanding and grow. Questions help achieve the same objective by furthering our understanding and building our relationships.
Practically speaking, do you have to have the counseling gift to ask questions?
Definitely not. You can learn. And it is not that difficult. Make it a point to listen with your first response being a question. Make it an open-ended question. No yes and no questions, and have a few standard questions ready: “How was your day?”, “How did that make you feel?”, “What do you think is most difficult for you right now?”, “What would you like to see happen?”
It may not be easy at first, but great changes seldom are. On the other side of those questions are much more fulfilling and fruitful relationships.
Back to my consulting friend. Over the course of several years, we made it a point to spend at least an hour together each week. As time went on, it was apparent to me and to him that he was having difficulty in his thought processes. I’m sure he had been diagnosed with some form mental illness related to aging and his diagnosis was progressive. Despite it all, he was still a pleasure to be with. If his mental function was 65%, his 65% was better than most peoples’ 100%. Why? He still continued to look for the right questions. He still continued to communicate care and concern. God had done a great work in his life over the years and I was a recipient of that work. A great work that was evidenced by his desire to ask just the right question because he cared and saw the value of a question.
— by Rick Reitz
Reitz is the author of W(hole)Hearted. He is a pastor and speaker specializing in strategic planning and leadership development.
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