Question Everything

Posted In: Soft Skills
Posted On: 10/11/2016

You have heard the saying to listen more than talk (check out Richard Branson’s take on this).  It’s hard to do, but it really does work.

I’d like to take this concept to the next level: 

Ask more questions.

Recently, I had a group of 20 Watson University students and staff in my home to watch and discuss an amazing TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie about The Danger of a Single Story.  What I would like to share is not the content of Adichie’s work or our discussion about her work, but instead what I learned from the students in the course of our session.

To set the stage, we were all positioned in my living room with popcorn and snacks in front of my TV.  We first did some personal introductions, watched the talk, and then began to share our reactions to the piece.  Now here is where it got interesting. 

In the course of a couple of hours, each student had a chance to weigh in on the themes that emerge from Adichie’s piece. But instead of just providing their own perspectives, they were even more curious to understand where the other students were coming from.  And so I found myself, as facilitator, mainly listening while they asked each other questions.  Each question seemed to take the group a layer deeper into the dialogue and another level deeper into the personal experiences of the participants.  And the more personal the discussion became, the more I was drawn in and awed by the thoughts of this young group.  There was a connection that transcended age and experience.

At the end of the session, one young woman said that she thought the afternoon was going to consist of me lecturing the students.  Which would have been fine, she quickly added, but she was thrilled to have been a part of hearing so many voices on the topic.

As I think about bridging the gap between generations, perhaps it is as simple as just asking the other’s point of view.  And once you get that answer, ask the next question to take the dialogue deeper and more personal.  One student suggested that when someone shares something with you, you simply ask as a follow-up, “what does that mean to you?”

In that way, you do not create your own version of their story, but you let them articulate what in fact their story means to them.  Brilliant.

It makes me want to question everything.