When you use reflective questions, you are directing the other person’s thinking. It is this questioning process that starts the thinking process, both for you and for the other person. This kind of question is a gift to the person being asked because it induces clarity of thought. Similarly, the answer can be a gift to the person asking because it is a quick way to obtain and understand the other person’s viewpoint.
Asking reflective questions increases the parent’s awareness of a child’s perceptions, thereby significantly increasing the parent’s understanding of the child. This clarification leads to both increased effectiveness and improved relationships. A key purpose of all communications is to gain understanding, to get clarity of the other person’s thinking, and not necessarily to achieve agreement. Clarity takes precedence over agreement. Experience has shown time and time again that aiming at understanding and clarity is the most effective route to resolving differences.
Here’s an example of how the process works. Two sisters were sharing a hand-held game. They agreed that the younger sister would have the first turn and that each would have two turns playing before passing the game to the other person to play. But after her two allotted turns, the younger sister did not want to give the game up. She ignored all the reminders from her sister and parent about the agreement.
The astute parent then thought, “What can I ask, not tell, to have her reflect on the agreement—on the agreed-upon procedure—and have her take responsibility?” As she was playing the game for the third time, the parent simply asked, “Is this your second try at your second game?” The youngster looked up and then handed the game to her sister. Asking a reflective question was more successful than attempting to use coercive persuasion.
This example brings up an important point. Sometimes we parents need to be satisfied with only a single step in the right direction. A single is not a home run, but it gets the baseball player to first base and moving in the desired direction. In the situation with young girl, the child was obviously not pleased to give up the game when she still wanted to play with it. The parent was not pleased that she did not keep her agreement to share after her second turn. However, progress was made—a step in the right direction. As soon as you start asking reflective questions, you will immediately realize the effectiveness and power of this strategy. Questions such as the following are designed to promote deep and reflective thinking:
- “Are you willing to try something different?”
- “What would you do if you could not fail?”
- “What can you do to accomplish that?”