Have you ever asked ‘an innocent question’ and all hell broke loose? That’s because innocent questions are rarely innocent. You think you’re showing curiosity and good intentions, but there’s often an ulterior motive you may not be aware of. If you’ve been on the receiving end and felt attacked, imagine how the person in front of you feels when you ask the question.
Maybe you’ve asked a friend why she did something a certain way. It sounds curious, but it can feel critical to your friend. She may already doubt her decision or feel like she screwed up.
Think about why you asked the question. Is it possible that you think you could have done it better? Intentional or not, that’s a judgment and won’t help her feel better or come up with a solution. In fact, she may feel worse about herself or lash out at you instead.
Asking innocent questions shows a lack of faith and confidence in the other person. It confirms to them that they did mess up. They start to believe they can’t handle things on their own. Is that the message you really want to send?
Can you remember a time when your parents asked that kind of question? How did it feel to you – like nagging, lecturing or criticism? Did you feel better or worse, and did it motivate you to fix the problem or avoid it?
Sometimes parents are fishing for information. “Did you finish that report?” A simple yes or no answer, right? Not necessarily. This may translate to, “What I’m really saying is that I haven’t seen you working on it. I’m trying to figure out how much is done, or not done, so I can nag/lecture/remind you that you’d better get a move on, and then I can stop worrying about your grades (and your future).” This may sound like an exaggeration, but that can be what’s behind that simple question.
You might need some reminders, but there’s a better way to do it. Here are some suggestions about how your parents could ask that question a different way. When you’re feeling calm and courageous, consider letting them know that this could get better results. This can work for you with your friends, too. The first step is to state what you (or they) see, and then move on to more helpful questions.
Statement of fact: I noticed you’re avoiding that report.
- What would help you now?
- Who could you ask for help?
- What’s the toughest part about getting started?
- What’s worked for you in the past?
Your goal is to support your friend or family member. Better questions like these can contribute toward this goal, instead of feeding the problem.
Change your innocent questions into more helpful, open-ended questions and watch everything change.
About the Author: Fern WEIS, Monthly Mentor and Parent Mentor, is a certified Parent Empowerment Coach and Family Recovery Coach. While teaching middle school for 13 years, Fern trained as a life coach and founded her business, Your Family Matters, in 2008. Fern works with parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, from the homework wars to addiction recovery, and all points in between. Through group programs and private coaching, parents work on communication skills, building relationship and setting boundaries with love and respect. Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive and be successful through life’s challenges. Read More…