Asking Questions – Let Curiosity Be Your Guide

Feb 19, 2021

As I think about the mediation process—involving both my clients and me—the act of asking questions looms large.

For the mediator, asking questions is the gateway to understanding what the goals of each spouse are as they discuss the details of how to end their marriage. 

I’ve also found that questions that are asked by one spouse of another can transform a history of ineffective communication into a constructive opportunity to understand.

On the other hand, a question that is asked in a self-serving way or which otherwise may cause someone to feel vulnerable or made to look bad can derail the conversation.

Several years ago, I participated in continuing education that addressed how we can use questions to better understand each other. The presenter, Sharon Strand Ellison, author of Taking the War Out of Our Words, focused on the dos and don’ts of asking questions.

My biggest takeaway on the “do” side of asking questions is to come from a place of curiosity. When we demonstrate curiosity, we are signaling to the other person in a conversation that we are interested in what the other has to say. And so for the one hearing that question, s/he can then think, “I am being invited to share.” That can be very freeing for someone who may be used to hearing questions that sound more like an interrogation—where controlling behavior has been a symptom of the marriage.

A good question, coming from genuine interest and curiosity, can often unlock a door behind which may lie many answers…[those answers] may build a foundation for learning where the other person is coming from…thereby furthering a conversation about options for meeting both spouses’ needs as they plan for separate lives.

A good question, coming from genuine interest and curiosity, can often unlock a door behind which may lie many answers:

  • The other person’s understanding of the details of a situation
  • Clarification of something that the other person said
  • Assumptions that have shaped that person’s views
  • What the other person is feeling in the moment and looking ahead to the future
  • The other person’s values and attitudes
  • The intentions behind something that the other person said or did

Any of the above may build a foundation for learning where the other person is coming from, in terms of needs and interests, thereby furthering a conversation about options for meeting both spouses’ needs as they plan for separate lives.

As a mediator, using my curiosity to generate good questions allows my clients to express themselves and be heard. And together, we can use that dialogue to explore the future and create a path of promise and hope.