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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

27 Mar '13

Learning to have probing conversations

Posted by T.J. Addington in conversations, questions
Learning how to have probing conversations with others is a great skill for those who desire to have influence. This not an intrusive conversation but one that helps people come to clarity about something in their lives. Nor is it a prescriptive conversation but one that helps another come to understand themselves and their situation with greater clarity so that they can move in appropriate ways.

This is a skill that can be learned - I had to learn it. I am by nature inquisitive and a learner but in years past I did that analysis largely in my own brain: Quietly and systematically. That worked well when it was something I needed to figure out in my life but it didn't do as well in solving organizational problems where the intellectual capital of others is so valuable, nor in helping others come to clarity on issues they are facing.

A probing conversation is one of questions, reflecting back what you are hearing for clarity and unpeeling a situation like one would an onion, one thin layer at a time. It is not done in a hurry but in a relaxed setting designed for reflection.

It's questions are many:
"Tell me more about that."
"Why did you take that course of action?"
"What did you learn through that situation?"
"What drives you?"
"What does a good day look like for you?" "A bad day?"
"What in life gives you the greatest sense of purpose and satisfaction?"
"Why?"
"Tell me about your strengths and their shadow side."
"Tell me about your family of origin and how it has shaped you."

Probing conversations are full of thoughtful questions, careful listening, clarifying what one has heard, the silence of thinking and drilling down in order to help someone else understand themselves better. It is a key tool for leaders, supervisors or just friends who want to help another think deeply about their lives.

Perhaps the most important question we could ask ourselves and others is why? Why do I say yes to so many things? Why don't I delegate more? Why does so and so push all my buttons? Why am I defensive about certain things? The why question is so powerful first because it helps us understand our motives behind our actions and second, often reveals weaknesses in our practices or habits. It is powerful precisely because it makes us question the status quo and prevents us from thinking better and differently and more freshly.

Thus we can have equally probing conversations with ourselves and the wise among us do it all the time. It is in self-examination that we  better understand ourselves, especially as we allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate the recesses of our hearts, minds, emotions and motives. 

Our world is filled with surface conversation and too little deep conversation that helps us and others live with greater self-awareness. Every one of us can work to change that by asking the right questions at the right time, of ourselves and others.