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When a Question is Not

I have a bad habit of using a question to make a statement rather than to actually gain information. When one of my children is driving me to store, if I ask, “why are you going this way?” I can either mean “why are you going this way?” or “this is a dumb way to go, you should have gone another way.” Too often it is the latter.

One of my clients recently told me that she wants her school to be one where “empathetic inquiry” is the main operating procedure. I loved this phrase.

In a world which is increasingly polarized, asking questions and listening to the answer in a way that gives the responder the benefit of the doubt makes for more interesting and robust dialogue. We need not ultimately agree with the answer but we should listen with care and with the thought that given the speaker’s perspective this answer makes some sense.

It is too easy to dismiss answers we disagree with as being dumb or thoughtless. Most people are not dumb or thoughtless but we do have different motivations and different lenses through which we see the world.

Try to determine those lenses before outright dismissing answers you disagree with. Practice empathetic listening.

1 Comment

NA Thomp
NA Thomp
Dec 13, 2023

Empathic inquiry paired with benefit-of-the-doubt feel so essential for healthy collaboration!

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