Some time back I facilitated a workshop during which we experimented with silence.
It’s a difficult art.
Delegates had individually completed a five minute exploration of one aspect of themselves, resulting in a few written sentences. The second part of the exercise was to pair up and share that with a colleague. The only ask I made of those listening was to say nothing. Yes, to remain fully present. Yes, to listen completely, not just for what was said, but for deeper meaning and what wasn’t being said. But to remain silent. For the full five minutes.
They were all unable to avoid asking questions. So we explored that when we came back together.
It transpired the questions were all for the benefit of the questioner. Questions to clarify the questioner’s understanding. Questions for the questioner to understand context. Questions for the questioner to compare with their own experience. Questions for the questioner to shape appropriate feedback, input, opinion. Questions for the questioner to demonstrate they were listening. Questions for the questioner to collude. Questions for the questioner to feel they were adding value, helping in some way. Questions for the questioner to demonstrate empathy.
“When does this happen?” “What have you tried?” “What happened when you…?” “Could you speak to…?” “How long has this been like this? “If you approached it this way…?” “I know what you mean, it’s hard isn’t it?” “What did they say when you did that?” “How can I help?” …
It seems we have become accustomed to ask questions for our own benefit.
Shifting focus to only ask questions for the benefit of the other person is a skill. It offers the other person a way to expand their own understanding, broaden their own awareness. It offers the other person an opportunity to explore choices, possibilities. It offers the other person the opportunity to learn, to grow.
Above and beyond this enhanced learning, to have someone be with us, solely in service of us, is rare. To have someone listen that deeply, to witness but not judge, to empathise not sympathise, can be a very connected experience. To be given space to be with our own experience is a gift, humbling and trust laden. At this level, silence becomes the deepest form of listening. The purest form of being with someone.
In many of our conversations, our human interactions, we fall into the pattern of asking questions to broaden our own understanding or to feed our own need to be useful. Questions to find solutions for the person, to be helpful and affirm our own value… to ourselves.
Seeking questions solely to broaden the speaker’s awareness offers a different way.
Be curious about the true intent behind the questions you ask.
Practice seeking questions which broaden the other person’s exploration of their own experience and to find new learning, new possibilities, new meaning for themselves. Practice too the art of silence.