Dr. Rich Patterson

Value People–Value Questions

Part of the fun in life lies in the many different type of people and how they come to understand things.  You can choose to be frustrated with them, call them a name, just flat out say they are wrong, or you can choose to discover how they came to understand something like they did.  Asking questions provides the catalyst to encouraging a deeper conversation with someone you may not otherwise have one with.  For example, let’s say that you are a faith based person and in conversation with someone, they say, “Be sure to stay away from him (someone standing on the corner), he has signs that says Jesus saves.”

Now you have a choice, you can be offended (easily if you’re a faith based person) and never have anything to do with them again, labeling them as anti-religion, which they may or may not be true.  Or you can ask them a question.  “Really!”  You might say, “Tell me why that offends you?”  Then you can set about using the Questioning Progression that I wrote about in the previous post.  Rather than being offended, choose to find out how they think, what are their details.  Why do they categorize people as they do?  What are their various experiences with differing type of beliefs?  Ask them to elaborate more.  “Why do you see that as offensive?”  “Have you had a bad experience with this type of behavior?”

By engaging in conversation with them, or more accurately, getting them to engage, you save yourself from getting angry or being offended.  You may get an insight into their thinking that at a later time, or with another individual who thinks similarly.  You can then speak to their view with a bit more insight and confidence.  It may just be appropriate to correct them from your own views, or perhaps say something like, “Good luck with that.  I’ve found that attitude to be very dead-end and without a positive energy.”

Often when I use this approach with someone, rather than being offended, I find that their thinking has stereotypical statements in it.  Setting the example above aside, people often say something with great confidence that they simply do not know.  I have been an educator for over 40 years and am still involved in education.  The other day I found myself a part of a conversation about the teachers strike nationwide.  Person-A,  asked me what school districts do with all their money?  Why aren’t teachers paid more?  Before I could answer, Person-B, chimed in and simply said, “They don’t spend their money wisely.  The waste it.”   I knew that she couldn’t explain point one about school finance, but she was sure that she knew the answer.  Her Johari Window was that of a junior varsity volleyball coach, therefore she felt qualified.

I was surprised that Person-A asking the question was happy with that answer, when they know my position as an educator, but they were happy with that answer.  Now you have a choice, you can leave it there, or correct them.  If information lacks insight then correcting someone is the best course, however, remember no one likes to be told their belief about something is wrong.  So the best approach includes a great deal of diplomacy.

I encourage you the next time someone says something that surprises you, or offends you, to use your patience, use your integrity and begin the delightful journey of discovering why they feel that way.  If nothing else, you will learn a bit more about how they came to have the attitude they do.  This will, at the least, give you more insight into them as a person and their thinking, but will also likely give you a thought process that others have as well.  Then you can use your knowledge of that subject to engage in an even more deep conversation.

Have fun with it, adopt an open mind even when offended–you’ll be glad you did.