Conflicts often begin because people are wedded to their own positions and don’t want to take the time to truly understand someone else’s point of view. In other words, we spend a lot of effort, time, and energy defending our own agenda or trying to convince other people to change their minds rather than creating a conversation where ideas are truly explored or illuminated.
Effective questioning during a conflict can change the outcome dramatically because it
- Promotes better listening
- Deepens understanding of all the information being presented, and
- Increases overall learning.
Several studies have demonstrated the importance of listening in handling conflicts because nothing makes a person feel more acknowledged, validated, or loved than really being listened to. When people listen to us to really understand us rather than just for the purpose of articulating their next response, we feel as though our side of the story actually matters, it’s not all about their agenda, and they really care about what we think.
What better way to prompt ourselves to listen than by asking a question? Asking a thoughtful question automatically turns the conversation back in the direction of the other person. Again, instead of advocating support for your own perspective, you’re now in the position of having to listen carefully to the answer, thus opening up the possibility of a follow-up question, and the dialogue continues.
One of the best benefits of asking questions during a conflict is that it shows the other person that you believe there are various ways of approaching the issue—that no one way is absolutely right. Questioning demonstrates a level of openness and curiosity that is crucial to creating a “shared understanding.” Imagine the different response you might get from saying, “You definitely should do…” to “I wonder what would happen if you…”. Asking questions such as “Can you say more about how you see things?” or “Can you explain to me why this is important to you?” deepens understanding from both parties.
Finally, questioning leads to multiple exchanges and contributions from both sides, thereby enhancing the overall learning. When people ask questions of one another and listen to each other’s responses, it deepens the exploration of the topic at hand and new meanings can emerge. Whether the conversation ends in agreement or not, everyone comes away with new information and clarification. Asking questions also keeps us from making faulty assumptions, which can immediately shut down further dialogue.
- Ask open-ended questions that generate deeper dialogue.
- Listen for the purpose of understanding, not to formulate your next response.
- Approach the conversation with the intent to “learn” rather than “being right.”