When I was growing up my parents had a small business and one of their business mentors was a man called Basil. Basil was a wise man and very successful – my parents had immense respect for him. Whenever my sister or I made an assumption about something my mum or dad would parrot his wise words and say “Basil says Don’t Assume”. It became part of our family vernacular. I must have made lots of assumptions as a child because those words are burnt into my memory!
Like many other sayings and words of wisdom my parents imparted on me, this one is so very true. Assumptions can become our great downfall and, as so often is true with them, often made incorrectly.
Just think back to the last time you had some sort of conflict in your life. Did you make an assumption about why the other person did or didn’t do something? Did you make an assumption about what wasn’t said (you filled in the blanks without checking)? Did you make an assumption about how they must have felt because of a particular action?
If the answer is yes, then there is a very high chance your assumption contributed to the conflict, maybe even perpetuated it or inflamed it further.
Today I had one of those conversations with a friend. Somehow the wheels fell off really quickly and decisions were being made on assumptions that were not verified. Thankfully in the end we came out the other side of it quite elegantly, yet what it highlighted for me was the importance of asking questions – especially asking Clarifying Questions.
According to Study.com Clarifying questions “are tools used by active listeners to ensure understanding and obtain essential information. These types of questions are simple inquiries of fact”.
To clarify something is simply a form of reflection that seeks to eliminate ambiguity, confusion or misunderstanding – the basis of many disagreements and conflict.
An interesting discovery I have made listening to conversations since I became a Life Coach is that people sometimes think they are getting clarification on a topic, when in actual fact they are sharing an opinion or filling in a blank that the speaker didn’t cover.
I have witnessed entire conversations where massive chunks of information are missing, assumptions are being made, and problems have arisen very quickly (think relationship breakdown when two people are completely focused on their view of events).
Clarifying questions can solve so many problems in communication and conflict. Asking someone to explain further also demonstrates a genuine interest in what the person is saying – a key part of being an active listener.
In fact, it is the sign of a talented communicator!
There are two types of clarifying questions: open and closed.
An open clarifying question helps the speaker find direction in what is confusing or lacking in the information they’ve provided. Open clarifying questions can take the form of when, where, how or why questions.
Closed clarifying questions ask for a yes or no response. They serve to obtain accuracy in a more direct discussion and are often framed as did or were questions.
Below is a list of examples of clarifying questions:
- Is this what you said…?
- How did you get on the roof?
- What prompted you to apply for this job
- Did I understand you when you said…?
- Did you eat the last piece of cake?
- What’s another way you might…?
- Did I hear you correctly when you said…?
- Do you like doing what you do?
- Were you able to get all the work done in the timeframe given?
- Why did you want to move to France? (because I love cheese and wine 😉)
A clarifying question should not express an opinion or bias. It must not be leading. It has to be a simple request for additional information whether it be open or closed.
My challenge for you over the next few days to is to observe how many clarifying questions you ask in a conversation. Notice if your habit is to “fill in the blanks”, and if so how does that impact the conversation you are having?
Communication, like any other skill, always benefits from some focused attention and practice. Maybe you could start with asking yourself some clarifying questions…..something to think about.