You Are Asking Questions, But Are You Listening?
By Donna Fowler
I have been re-reading one of my favorite books, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger which time after time grounds me in the power of questioning, not only towards others, but questioning ourselves.
We ask questions from the time we get up and sometimes even in our sleep. But – Are we listening?
I often tell a story of my youngest son when he was a kindergartener. Wyatt’s teacher had implemented the “traffic light” behavioral system in her classroom and Wyatt consistently reached “yellow” for talking. His teacher was frustrated and reached out to me to see if I had any ideas on how to keep him from talking. I had what seemed like a million questions swiveling around in my head with that one simple ask, some appropriate and some not so appropriate – if you know what I mean.
I had to dig around in my brain to find the right question that would support not only the teacher, but Wyatt as well. My first question to the teacher was – “Have you asked Wyatt why he won’t stop talking?” The answer was no. The teacher and I then asked Wyatt why he continued to talk even when he reached yellow. His answer, “Because yellow only means to slow down.” While this story is funny now, there are lot a lessons to learn about listening in order to question.
I think back now. Yes, we figured out that the “traffic light” behavioral system was not working for Wyatt because of his prior experiences with traffic lights. However, there we so many other questions that I knew needed to be asked and answered about the behavior system that was put in place – Why it was put in place? Who were the children that were always being put on yellow or red? How was it affecting their love of learning and their relationship with the teacher and classmates? I just didn’t know how to truly listen to my questions at the time, how to think about what it meant that I even had these questions in the first place, or why I didn’t ask them.
Did you know that between the age of 2 and 5 children ask on average 40 thousand questions; but sadly, by the time children reach middle school, questioning becomes minimal and engagement goes down. Questioning doesn’t just disappear; we just stop listening. In the words of Frances Peavey, a good question is like, “a lever used to pry open the stuck lid on a paint can.”
I have my theories or questions as to why we stop listening.
- Has the art of questioning been drilled out of us because our educational system is set up to teach us what they want us to know, when they want us to know it, and how they want us to know it?
- Is questioning perceived as an affront to authority?
- Are we afraid to question because we are not comfortable in our own ignorance? or
- Do we get caught up in our own knowing?
The bottom line is that if you are not questioning, you are not learning, adapting, or changing. When we cease to adapt and change, we cease to exist. Take some time today, listen with your whole mind and body to pull out the questions you have and then become a problem solver. You can do it – I know you can and I can’t wait to hear about it.