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An Excerpt from Give Yourself The Answers Instead Of Asking Questions Instead Of Asking Questions
by Dr. Eric Dlugokinski

Asking lots of questions is often thought of as a polite and sensitive way to converse with others, a way to deferring our importance to others, a way of saying "I am interested in you," a way of saying you are important.

Unfortunately, all too often it translates into something different. Sometimes it is about asking others to make personal decisions that belong to us, a way of saying "I don't care" or "I don't matter" or in some cases, insensitively asking, "Why are you the way you are?"

Instead of expressing that we are hungry, we ask if others are hungry. Instead of saying that we want to see a movie, we ask if others wish to see one. Instead of telling a child to put their shoes in the closet, we ask why they left them in the living room. When we need to make statements of self-expression but ask questions instead, feelings of resentment and bitterness often follow . Simply speaking, ineffective communication with others is the end result.

Some of these senseless questions we ask is a mindless way based on cultural norms. Walking down the street, strangers sometimes pass me on the sidewalk and say to me, "How you doin'?" In the mini-second that it took us to pass each other, there was no chance for an answer. I usually nod in some fashion, trying to remain pleasant. The strangers don't want an answer, and I don't want to give one, but why did they ask in the first place? To me, it makes no sense. Yet, "Hey, what's up?" or "How you doing'?" is a common way Americans greet each other. Sometimes people use this phrase when they don't know the person they are greeting and don't even want an answer.

In most cases, Americans understand this and don't take it too seriously, but that's not true in other countries. While teaching a course at an American military base in Germany, a native German attendee told me that he felt insulted when he was greeted in that manner. He explained that in Germany, strangers greet each other with "Good day" or "Good morning," and that as a stranger, they had no right to inquire about his personal condition. He felt offended.

So you say, "So what? What's the big fuss about? It's just a cultural thing, a way people do things here." Yes and no. Yes, it is customary and used by many, but no, it may not be the best way to greet anyone, especially a stranger.

If you are one of those people who greet people with a question, try something different and see what it does for you. With strangers, maybe a simple "hi" is sufficient. With friends or acquaintances, try saying, "Hi, Jim" or "Hi, Sally," or if you feel like it, follow your "Hello" with a brief statement like, "Hi Jim, I like your hat," or "Hi, Sally, I like your dress." It's usually a more satisfying experience for you both.

More than that, it is a conscious way that you can begin remaining centered and grounded in your communication with others. You are not trying to pull something out of someone to feel okay. It is a tool to help you be more proactive and less reactive in your communication.

Reactivity sets the stage for being a victim of one's environmental circumstances and situations. Question take us more and more out of our capacity for "self composure" and into vibrating with the emotional state of others. As we cross "boundaries" to try to pull things from others, we become more impacted by them and their condition. The more reactive we are, the more we are likely to be impacted by an irritable spouse, a worried friend, or a depressed colleague or boss. As we become reactive, listening becomes difficult, and we are more likely to try to manipulate others so we can feel better.

Reactivity is a little bit like getting lost in one's environment instead of witnessing it and directing oneself in it. Instead of helping us be good listeners, when we are reactive, we are more likely to interrupt others, advise them, and argue with them. Manipulative questions replace statements. In a sense, our own personhood is lost in the other, and respect for one's own personhood and the personhood of others is missing.

So, in the broadest sense, questions put us in jeopardy in our environment. The more questions we ask, the more trouble we are likely to be in. Specific problems with questions will be examined later in this chapter, but to personalize some of the suggestions and ideas in this book and to understand what role they play, I challenge you, the reader, to go one full day without asking a single question.

Instead of "What time is it?" try, "I'd like to know what time it is." Instead of "What's for supper?" try, I'd like to know what's for supper." Instead of "Hi, how are you?" try, "Hello, Jim" or "Hello, Sally." Use your imagination.

Go without asking a question for one full day, and you will begin to understand what it means to be centered and why being centered is more satisfying to you and others. It will also bring home some of the illustrations and lessons of this book and make them personally relevant to you. If you slip up and ask a question automatically, start over and go back to your commitment. Indirect questions are okay and can abe beneficial. For example, "I'd like to hear bout what happened to you at work today" or I'm in the kitchen, but I'd like to hear about what happened on your math test today." Indirect questions set the stage for being good listeners. Direct questions do no. Try the challenge, and you will begin to discover more of your own ability to direct your life.

About the author: Eric Dlugokinski is a Licensed Psychologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Oklahoma. During the early years in Oklahoma he was mentored by Povl Toussieng, M.D., who sparked his career-long interest i the destructive emotional impact of inappropriate questions. Eric has authored over 25 books in Mental Health Education and has served as a columnist for the Daily Oklahoman and Woman's World. Currently he has a private practice of psychotherapy in Oklahoma City and teaches courses in Human Emotions and Communications at military bases around the world. He is married to Lesley, who is also a Licensed Psychologist, and has two sons and five grandchildren.

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