On my days as a trainer, I teach adults communication skills. On my days as a divorce mediator, I work with families, facilitating their disputes. On my days as a lawyer, I negotiate on behalf of a client to get the most realistic offer possible. In all my verbal interactions during these different roles, I introduce many to asking open-ended questions when conversing with people, including asking one question in particular: WHY.
So often we get caught up pretending to be listening to people so that we may respond with a thought we already formulated in our heads while they were talking and after we have just finished what we wanted to say. Many people fake the action of actually listening and paying attention to what someone is saying by being distracted with waiting for the opportune time to get their point across that and they fail to ask WHY in most conversations.
WHY elicits a probe into gathering more information. This gathering of information allows any person to prepare an appropriate response. It’s lack of popularity in a conversation only shows that people are not interested in understanding another person’s perspective and gaining empathy for their view. Instead, most people are more interested in getting their own point noticed while retaining a sense of closed-mindedness to what the other person is experiencing.
By understanding the reason why a person holds a certain view or behaves in a certain manner, you’re able to move the conversation constructively forward, leaving you both fulfilled that you have heard each other with a depth of understanding.
Think about the interactions you have with people on a daily basis, and ask yourself, how often do I ask WHY? Now shift your focus to conversations you have with your child. How often when interacting with your child, do you ask the question WHY after they have told you what they have experienced?
Many communication breakdowns between parent and child are based on a failure to understand the thought of what is behind a child’s actions. Often parents are too ready to dismiss a conversation with their child or to react with punishment when a child behaves difficult without asking WHY.
In their book “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk”, Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish explain that there is a “direct connection between how kids feel and how they behave”. They suggest that the only way as a parent to create an understanding of how to address your child, is to put yourself in the shoes of your child. Once you have done that your communication level is adapted to eliciting what your child is feeling and going through. Instead of interrupting your child’s verbal expressions, ask open-ended questions such as WHY to let them know that you are paying attention and to also give them to the go-ahead to keep talking.
Asking WHY opens up the communication channel between parents and child and extends the interaction beyond highly emotionally charged reactions between them. The parent becomes more empathetic to the child’s point of view when they actively pay attention to what the child is saying. This enables the parent to understand the thought processes of their child which lead to the actions, the emotions behind their actions and their reasons for reacting or behaving in a certain way.
“Asking WHY opens up the communication channel between parents and child and extends the interaction beyond highly emotionally charged reactions between them.”
At the same time, as a parent, you can also present your reasoning behind why you are responding or reacting to the child’s behaviour in a certain manner. Explaining to your child your thought processes and reasoning helps them gain perspective from your point of view. A child undergoes developmental changes and as a parent, you have to adapt to those developmental stages. By asking WHY, you get to see the change in the way they present their views and their understanding of their actions. At the same time, your explanations will evolve to match their development.
Not asking WHY shows a lack of interest. Not asking WHY shows a stubbornness to actually hear what the other person is saying while focusing on your own point of view.
Asking WHY opens the channel of communication. Asking WHY presents a concerted effort to go underneath the emotions and physical behaviour displayed and understand the concerns and fears of the other person. By understanding the WHY behind what you see you can meet anyone halfway to having a meaningful conversation. Try this with your family, friends and colleagues, it will certainly improve your communication skills and, more importantly, gain their trust that you are actually interested in listening to what they are saying.
This article is submitted for information only and does not serve as legal advice. For more information on mediating in the best interests of your child, visit www.fairpractice.co.za or contact Fair Practice at firstname.lastname@example.org.