The Danger Of Asking Questions

Do you enjoy asking questions? Many people don’t. They might want to get answers – but when it comes to the crunch, asking any question can be tough.

The danger of asking questions is that they almost always have the potential to threaten the “face” of the person being questioned.

What if they don’t know the answer? What if they don’t even understand the question?  That might make them look silly.

What if they give the questioner a blank look, or refuse to answer? That might make them look stupid, or rude.

As a result, most cultures share a general reluctance to ask questions, except in certain ritualised situations (such as interviews).

This danger of asking questions is something my Clean Language students often struggle with. Clean Language is a set of precision questions designed to explore another person’s experience. To become proficient with it, it’s essential to ask loads of questions.

And when the students start asking any questions, they feel uncomfortable.

“It’s because the Clean Language questions are weird,” they’ll say. “How can I make them sound more normal?”

But the truth is, there’s nothing weird about the Clean Language questions. “What kind of ….?” or “Where is … ?” are perfectly ordinary questions.

What’s actually weird – or, at least, unusual – is asking a question, rather than not asking one. And that’s making it much harder for us to understand each other.

  • Feel free to ask a question in the “comments” area below 🙂

4 Comments

  • Stephen Grey

    29/03/2016

    In the spirit of “What is the worst that can happen?” I’d be interested to know if experienced practitioners do ever get negative or undesirable reactions to clean language.

  • JR

    01/04/2016

    Yes, Stephen, they do! You can probably get as varied a range of reactions to Clean Language as to any other questions.

    Sometimes clients release “negative” emotions as part of a Clean coaching or therapy process, so they end up in floods of tears, or thumping the furniture or whatever. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, as long as appropriate safety measures are in place, but it can be a bit alarming.

    Worse are situations that James Lawley has called “mis-modelling” – where the questioner has got the wrong end of the stick about how the client’s inner world hangs together, and as a result asks a question which takes the client’s attention somewhere very undesirable. There’s a famous video of David Grove upsetting a client called Jessie by assuming the “flowers” in her landscape are positive, when in fact each represented a different rape.

  • Sioelan tjoa

    05/04/2016

    Oh yes, during a recent presentation for a group of local coaches, one person point blank refused to even try practising some clean questions, as it was grammatically incorrect and it nearly send this grown man into tears…..

  • JR

    05/04/2016

    The most bizarre thing about that is that Clean Language questions *aren’t* grammatically incorrect! Just drop quote marks round the other person’s words and all the questions work perfectly.

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