Creating Room for Change: Learning how to ask honest, open-ended questions
I am a teacher by nature. As a teacher, my goals are always for a heart transformed, a soul healed, or a mind stretched to new horizons. But what I have realized over time is that my way of teaching, however inspirational, is ineffective for any kind of long term change.
It has been by exploring the ways in which my own life has been transformed that I realize it is not by someone telling, but by someone asking, listening, and mirroring back what I said that my life was changed in significant ways.
When we ask honest, open-ended questions we give validation and confidence to a person and tell them that the truth resides somewhere deep in their soul. We trust them to use critical thinking and different spiritual disciplines such as prayer, silence and solitude, and reading of scripture to arrive at the answer their soul craves.
Honest, open-ended questions do not lead, suggest, or persuade. They simply open the door for truth to Honest, open-ended questions docome in.
Jesus give us the ultimate example of how to invite someone into a transformed life. Here are just a few examples:
- Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan? Matt 6:27
- Why are you anxious about clothes? Matt 6:28
- Why are you terrified? (Matt 8:26)
- Why do you harbor evil thoughts? (Matt 9:4)
- Do you believe I can do this? (Matt 9:28)
- What did you go out to the desert to see? (Matt 11:8)
- To what shall I compare this generation? (Matt 11:6)
- Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? (Matt 12:48)
- Why did you doubt? (Matt 14:31)
- But who do you say that I am? (Matt 16:15)
As a leader and a teacher, people come to you for advice. Personal, I have found it challenging and hard to resist the temptation to give them an answer since that seems the logical solution. If you are as challenged as I am with the temptation to give answers instead of asking questions, here is some help from some incredible teachers.
From his book, The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer describes the difference between a leading question and an honest, open-ended question.
“Have you thought about seeing a therapist?” is not an honest, open question. Palmer says that questions like these are asked out of personal arrogance and an agenda that we believe we know what is right for that person and can fix them (p. 126). Palmer suggests an honest, open question would be, “Have you ever had an experience that felt like your current experience” (p. 126). This type of question leads to open doors that the Holy Spirit can reveal truth to the person’s heart and soul.
In closing, I want to leave you with a few of my favorite coaching questions I learned from Tony Stoltzfus (Christian Life Coaching Handbook). I hope that these help and encourage in your walk as a leader. If you find it helpful, print them and post them in your office, or make them the wallpaper on your phone. You will be surprised at how helpful they become!
1) Tell me more about that situation.
2) What has God spoken to you about it so far?
3) What do you know?
4) What is your heart saying?
5) If you weren’t afraid of ___________, what would you do next?
6) Take your best shot: What do you think God wants you to do next?