Redefining the way we look at questions
Questions, even though we know the right thing to do to get information or clarity is by asking questions, why do we hold ourselves from asking questions most of the time? Why do certain questions offend us? Why do we sometimes panic or freeze when asked a question?
To find out that, let me ask you a few questions, observe yourself, your body sensations and thoughts as your read through these questions.
1. Do you remember that feeling when your primary school teacher on the podium, writing on the board turned around, scanned the entire class, aimed and launched his chalk at the 8 year old you and asked “what is the definition of soil erosion?" and the next thing you know was an erosion of your self esteem as you stood on the bench with your hands raised towards the sky?
2. How did you feel as a child when your mother asked “Why are your marks so low this term?” and the next thing happened was a privilege being taken away?
3. How did you feel when you asked your teacher a question and she said “you think you are too smart? Get out of my class”?
4. How did you feel when you questioned your dad’s idea and he said “Be a child, don’t try to be my dad"?
5. How did you feel when as a teen a relative asked “what are your career plans?” and interrupted midway to dump his opinion on you?
Do you see where most of our associations towards questions come from? “It’s never about what it is, but what it makes us feel”. Do you know that we carry our associations from childhood into our adulthood without even realizing it most of the time? That’s why certain things that make us uncomfortable as a child continues to make us feel uncomfortable as an adult even if we have all the resources to handle that situation this time.
If you look at the possible emotional responses in the above experiences, they are fear, doubt, shame or a need to be right. Due to these past experiences with questions, today when your boss asks you, “what’s happening with this week's metrics?” you panic, inevitably your heart begins to race, you feel an urge to defend yourself, frustration takes over and the rest is an overflow of sympathizing voices in your head, saying how mean the world has been to you.
When an interviewer asks a question you don’t know the answer for. You either freeze or build stories to sound right or smart and then spend hours justifying to yourself that you have given your best, while your heart knows that you flipped.
Does any of it seem familiar? If not, do observe yourself next time you are asked a question.
Here are some of the most common associations we carry with regards to questions and how they stop us from growing
1. We often associate questions with authorities. This makes questioning or being questioned by anybody who we perceive as authoritarian uncomfortable. It could be a trainer ,a boss, someone at a higher position than we are, someone older to us in age etc.
2. We often tend to perceive questions as an attack and as a natural response to being attacked, we become defensive to protect ourselves.
3. We see questions as a form of punishment for making a mistake.
4. We tend to see questions as a test of our knowledge making us feel a need to be right, leaving us with a feeling of inadequacy if we fail.
5. Instead of asking ourselves questions to become more self aware, we justify our excuses limiting our growth (Eg. Instead of “How can I do this more efficiently?” We tell ourselves “No matter how much I work, these people are never satisfied”).
Were you able to relate to anything you just read? If yes, it’s your time to make a choice. Do you want to continue to feel uncomfortable with questions or do you want to shift your lens and feel empowered by questions? If you have chosen the later,
Here's how you can recondition your mind and establish an empowering relationship with questions.
Before you delve to the following steps, get into a mode of curiosity and prepare to ask yourself questions.
Step 1: Observe yourself- Next time you are asked a question, observe the voices in your head (What am I telling myself?), observe the sensations in your body (How am I feeling right now?). It may not come naturally until you consciously practice. If you were unable to do it at that moment, you could also reflect on it later.
Step 2: Acknowledge- Acknowledge the feelings you feel, acknowledge that you are feeling this way because of your past experiences and it is no more relevant (Where is it coming from?). You probably didn’t have the resources to deal with it then but you do have it now. Acknowledge it.
Step 3: Make a choice- Make a choice between holding on to it or letting it go (is holding on to it helping me?).
Step 4: Look at the intention -What could be the intention of the one questioning you? In the above example, your boss’s intention may not be to target you, instead it could be to understand where you are stuck and help you figure out ways to get unstuck. The interviewer’s intention may not be to get the right answer from you, it might be to see how authentic you are or what attitude you carry that’ll add value to their company. What is my intention when I question someone? Is it to know more get clarity or is to prove them wrong?
Step 5: Show gratitude- Now that you have shifted your perception of a question to a more resourceful emotion which is curiosity, show gratitude for yet another opportunity to think deeper and get better.
I hope this article helps you see questions in a new light. This information is useless until you implement it in your life and you get better with conscious practice.
Remember, every questions is an opportunity to think deeper!