Children can teach us adults a lot if only we would listen to them, pick up on their simple (even simplistic) logic and the nature of the questions that they ask. My three year old granddaughter has arrived at the stage where she asks a lot of “why” questions, has an opinion on most things and comments on any perceived irregularity (for example, a question emanating from the baby-seat in the back of the car: “Granddad, why do you drive so fast?”). Perhaps one needs to take heed of the message behind such questions and not entertain the usual justifications that rather quickly spring to mind, like: “I was overtaking at that time, sweetheart” or “It just feels fast in Granddad’s car, baby”.

Reactionary responses, not thinking before you act and acting on impulse are behaviours that seem to characterise the majority of responses given by humans – responses formed out of assumptions and pre-emptive judgements that we make on what we hear and see. We don’t take the necessary time to ask appropriate questions and check for understanding – we allow instinct and emotion alone to guide us and we don’t bring logic to the party. As such, our responses could end up being more destructive than and certainly not as effective as might have been intended originally, with resultant relational distrust and conflict.

Victor Frankl, the now diseased Austrian Neurologist, Psychiatrist and University Professor, best known for his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, suggested that there is a “space” between any stimulus and our potential response and said: “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom”. Perhaps, in order to get great results both personally and professionally, we need to ask penetrating questions of both the stimulus and potential response – firstly, of the stimulus, as follows:

  • Why am I feeling the way I am as a result of this stimulus?
  • What is really happening here – am I feeling that my pride or perhaps my ego is being attacked?
  • Are my assumptions accurate? Is there anything that I am missing? Do I have all the facts?
  • Am I making too quick a judgement on the intention of the other party?
  • Am I being over-sensitive?
  • Have I checked for understanding and gained clarity on what is really being communicated by the other party?

Secondly, of the response, as follows:

  • What result am I aiming at in terms of this relationship?
  • If I need sustainability in this relationship, what possible response is going to lead to the same?
  • Would reflective listening not be a better option than trying to prove something?
  • Do I understand my agenda and the other party’s agenda fully?
  • What am I hoping the result of this interaction will be?

Asking great questions, as a principle, firstly of oneself (with hopefully honest responses from oneself regarding motive and assumptions) and then of others (to clarify and gain understanding) more than often leads to great results. Somehow, the acquisition of understanding that great questions bring leads to making more informed decisions regarding attitude, behaviour and communication technique. Dr Stephen Covey’s fifth of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People states: “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” – wisdom for great results!

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