Asking Good Questions {with 3 resources for the question-less}

I am still stuck on the questions of the weekend. I spent two days at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference in Portland and as usual, I am slow to process all that came in.

It was good - that's my short answer. But there's a lot more happening than surface-y encouragement and tips for writing. There were some really good questions asked, and I left most of them unanswered.

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I think the key for an introvert in these environments is to introduce yourself to someone in each session you're in. That way you can delve into one life deep enough to distract you from the flurry of lives happening around you. That person can be your focal point.

Walk up, extend your hand, ask questions.

If you're good at this (and I am not, so I speak hypothetically - the way I imagine it would be) you'll be the first to ask questions, and you'll ask the ones that lead to the most interesting answers - because people are interesting below the exterior and each life is a world of its own.

That's the exhausting thing about conferences or large gatherings of any kind. Many worlds collide, and two days is just not enough.

Sometimes I'm on the answering-end of the questions and my tongue gets all fat and twisted and I kick myself internally for not being the first to fire a question. It's like social ping-pong and you want to play as close to the net as you can. I am too often tangled up  - awkwardly balancing the divide between your side and mine or retreating too far to the back of the table.

Some of the questions I was asked should have been answered immediately. I should know what I write about, what I'm passionate about, what my words are for. But for whatever frozen-up reason, what do you write about? became equivalent to WHO ARE YOU, REALLY?  (in all caps like that) and there aren't one-word answers suitable.

When it comes right down to it, answering certain questions can feel like crawling inside a box.

You know how it feels when someone asks you a deep and probing question without realizing it. They're expecting a short answer, the standing-in-line-at-the-checkout-being-polite version, and you're trying to formulate a good twitter-sized response. The conversation usually moves on before you've had time to do more than grunt and shrug.

The short and easy answer feels like that box, the one with a label you'll feel stuck with. The long answer feels like sharing too much of your journal to an uninterested reader.

Grunts and shrugs somehow suffice.

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.

It's comfortably uncomfortable, being asked questions you want to answer but can't.

Asking good questions is the catalyst for hearts to open up and burdens to unclench themselves from our shoulders. A good question implies that I'm ready to listen to your answer, when it comes. It means that the one asking understands that life is happening beneath the surface, that a whole world is formed in your mind, that you have an answer that is worth hearing, even if you take too long to answer.

A good question provokes thought.

The best questions don't always have to be answered - they do their work in silence. So in the silence of being back home, I'm letting them burrow deep.

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Resources for good questions:

  • StoryCorps - lists of great questions for all kinds of situations
  • How to Lead Transformational Conversations - podcast with Michael Hyatt and Michele Cushatt. This one is great for business, church, and family settings. Michael talks a lot about leading by listening and being open to input from others.
  • Tabletopics Family: Questions to start great conversations. This one sits on our kitchen counter.