Responsible citizenship involves the act of seeking knowledge and understanding. In 21st century America, making an effort to understand each other and the issues that are important to us is essential. One of the best ways to gain knowledge and understanding is through engaging in dialogue. No matter what the topic, participating in dialogue is a challenge. One way to work towards effective dialogue is to understand how to ask questions. Since today's challenge is to make a list of five questions to ask someone who supported a different presidential candidate than you, we thought it might help to think about how to ask effective questions. Here are a few of our tips:
1. Be respectful. Even in the process of generating questions, respect is an essential component of dialogue. The connotation of the diction you choose and the tone you establish in your questions can really alter how someone responds. Work to phrase your questions in a way that shows you are keeping an open mind. Avoid charged language that comes across as biased, accusatory, or condescending. Focus on maintaining objectivity. Consider opening your question with a statement of acknowledgment.
2. Build trust. Just the act of asking questions can be a way to build trust. It shows that you are interested and that you are listening, that you want to understand someone else's point of view. Asking valuable questions, however, works even further to build rapport and facilitate growth. Valuable questions allow for interaction. They should be open-ended and introspective. They should allow people to demonstrate their honesty, as trust requires an understanding that both people are committed to remaining open and honest. Questions that give people an opportunity to really share and really explore are the best when it comes to building trust.
3. Make it relevant. Just because the prompt for today's challenge focuses on presidential candidates doesn't mean you need to stick to the candidates. The election is over. What do you want to learn about someone who voted for a different candidate than you (other than why they voted for that candidate)? Consider asking them something outside the direct prompt but that will help you to understand their choices about the election. For example, instead of asking what someone liked about Hillary Clinton, consider asking what them what they view as the single most important factor in maintaining a well-functioning society and why.
4. Clarify your intent. You always need to have a goal. If you are engaging in a dialogue, you should know what you want to gain from that dialogue. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to learn? Crafting questions will become much easier when you specify your intention.
5. Don't interrogate. Don't get hung up on the interrogative aspect of questions. Just because there isn't a question mark at the end of your sentence, doesn't mean what you said wasn't a form of questioning. Try starting your sentence with "Tell me about" instead of "What," Why," "Who," or "How." Just that small shift in phrasing can change the tone of a conversation. Sometimes questions can put people on the defense. As opposed to feeling like they have to validate their thoughts or beliefs, they can explain their thoughts or beliefs. That type of discussion can be much more productive.