“Why do you do it like that?”
How do you hear that in your head when you read that question? As though the person is asking as a pre cursor for criticising you and telling you a way you ‘should’ do it instead? Or as though the person is asking from a place of curiosity, interest and a desire for deeper understanding?
When I work with teams or groups of people, we often start with a contracting exercise, where we agree some ‘house rules’ for the activity and how we are going to be with one another. One of my favourite ones to throw in the mix (and I’m not entirely sure where I first heard this so apologies for not crediting my source) is ‘questions come from a place of curiosity, not judgement’.
The basic premise is that if you are about to ask a question that will in some way cause the other person (or people) to feel judged, assessed, defensive, accused or confronted then that question is not welcome. Instead, shifting your purpose to curiosity, interest, a desire to learn or deepen understanding then that question is most welcome. And if your question can’t be reframed or rephrased to meet this requirement, then it’s probably not a helpful question to raise anyway.
A friend and colleague of mine has an ongoing theory about questions, especially in meetings. He believes that exceptionally few people ask questions because they want to know the answer. They ask questions because they either want to show off or show up. In showing off, they will ask a question that they suspect no-one else knows the answer to in order that they then get to be the one to answer their own question and show off that they know what they know. In showing up, they will ask questions that they know the other person doesn’t know the answer to, just to put them on the spot and highlight to everyone else present that they don’t know the answer.
Either way, both are examples of questions coming from a place of judgement not curiosity. Next time you feel yourself forming a question based on your belief that you know better I invite you to consider a different perspective, one where there is much to learn and be curious about.