Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - Learning What I Don't Know - Part Four

Part 4:  Asking the Right Questions   

"I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who." 
Rudyard Kipling 


In my quest to learn insight and understanding from those I meet along the path of life, all of whom know something I don't, I have identified three essential steps:
  • First, I must be genuinely curious about what I don't already know.
  • Second, I must ask them the right questions.
  • Third, I must listen purposefully to their answers.
While there are many types of questions I might ask in order to learn what another person knows, the questions best suited to this task are what I call "story-leading questions." "Story-leading questions" are inquiries that open the door to a narrative. A good story-leading question invites the other person to recall and share a little bit of their life-experience, and it is in those accounts that I can most readily learn what I don't know.
Story is our native language as human beings. Woven within the stories we tell about ourselves is valuable information about who we are and how we see the world around us.
Everyone has a story to tell; they just need an invitation. Thoughtful story-leading questions invite sharing. They express an authentic interest in the life of another. Like matches and kindling on a cool evening, they ignite a warm, crackling exchange of information, knowledge, and wisdom.
Most of us already use story-leading questions but are often not mindful of them. When we use them intentionally, we begin to learn things from others we never knew before.
Want proof? Here's an experiment you can try. This evening, ask someone this simple story-leading question:
"What's the most interesting thing that happened to you today?"
Or ask a young parent: "What has your child learned to say or do lately?"
Or ask a child: "What's something you like to do that makes you happy?"
Or ask an older person: "What's happening with your grandchildren?"
Or ask a friend: "What have you been up to since the last time we talked?"
Listen to their answer, and ask another question, and then another. In the stories that will come tumbling out, you will begin to learn many things you didn't already know. If you listen with purpose, you will find great treasures of wisdom and understanding.
In my next article, the last on this topic, I'll talk about how purposeful listening helps us learn what we don't already know.

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