Learning to ask honest, open questions is challenging. We may slip occasionally into old fixing habits and need forgiveness, from others and from ourselves … It helps to continually remind ourselves that our purpose in asking open and honest questions is not to show what good problem-solvers we are, but simply to support another person in listening to his or her inner wisdom.   

Paraphrased from Parker Palmer

Learning to respond to others with honest, open questions instead of counsel, corrections, advice, etc. can be a life-altering practice. With such questions, as Parker Palmer says, we help “hear each other into deeper speech”—a speech that might reveal a turning point in a life, an intuition about one’s health, or an insight into life’s purpose. For ourselves, the practice frees us from having to know “the answer” or solve “the problem.” It allows us to relax into our own humanity and the pleasure that comes from being connected to another.

But what is an open and honest question? The best definition is that the asker could not possibly anticipate the answer to it. So give it a try in your circles, in your marriage, with your friends and family and comment below on what you’ve discovered.

10 Tips for asking open and honest questions

  1. Ask yourself what assumptions you are making.
  2. The best questions are simple questions.
  3. Avoid questions with right/wrong, yes/no answers.
  4. Ask questions aimed at opening doors for the other person rather than satisfying your own curiosity.
  5. Ask questions that go to the person as well as the problem – questions about feelings as well as facts.
  6. Questions that invite imagery or metaphor are often helpful.
  7. Trust your intuition in asking questions, even if your instinct seems off the wall.
  8. If you aren’t sure about the question, be quiet, wait, and if it keeps surfacing, ask it.
  9. Watch the pacing of your questions. Questions coming too fast can feel aggressive.
  10. Avoid any storytelling, or behaviors that call attention to yourself.

(Adapted from the Center for Courage and Renewal – couragerenewal.org)

Header photo by Corrine Bayley