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Prompts: Asking Good Questions

by Ruth Folit

One of the things I loved to do as a kid was to look at a familiar scene–the backyard or my bedroom–and then to stand up and then bend over and look at the scene upside down with my head hanging between my knees. I loved the new view! The familiar suddenly became fresh.

Asking a good question accomplishes the same change in point of view, but hopefully without getting a headache from blood rushing to the head. Asking good questions expands your thinking and your perspective, stimulates deeper thinking and feeling, and helps you explore the contours of difficult issues or problems.

How do you ask good questions of yourself when you are in the midst or the problem/issue? How do you help yourself expand your vision to a wider focus?

For years I have had a pack of 64 cards, called “Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack.” According to an enclosed booklet, “The Creative Whack pack is based on the idea that sometimes you need a ‘whack on the side of the head’ to jolt you out of habitual thought patterns that prevent you from looking at things in a fresh way.” Each card offers a different strategy to approach a problem. Now, of course, Mr. von Oech has a website and blog at blog.creativethink.com. And you can see the contents of a random Creative Whack Pack card if you go to https://www.creativethink.com and click on the photograph of Mr. von Oech. Click again and another card appears. It’s a great quick tool when you need a whack on the side of your head.

If you are looking for a more comprehensive and thorough examination of an issue, consider this framework of developing questions (based on my quick research of Socratic questioning). Ask yourself to:

1. Clarify the concept: Can I rephrase it? Can I give more details? Can I give an example? Can I define some of the terms that I am using? What is the main point? Can I break down the issue into smaller parts?
2. Examine underlying assumptions: What beliefs or ideas lie beneath the surface? What assumptions am I making and why did I choose them? What other valid assumptions could I make instead?
3. Check the rationale, reasons, and evidence: What do I think is the cause of or reason for the event/behavior/feeling? What evidence is there which supports this thinking? How might that evidence be refuted? How could I find out if this reasoning is valid?
4. Change your perspective: What is another reasonable way to look at the situation or issue? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the other possible situation(s)/solution(s)? Compare the different perspectives and viewpoints.
5. Consider the implications and consequences: What will happen if I make those assumptions or take that action? What is the best/worst thing outcome? What are the implications of the decision/issue/circumstances?
6. Reflect on the questions: What’s the meaning of the situation/issue? What’s the point of asking the question? Why am I asking this question?

Let’s apply this set of questions to two theoretical life situations:

Life situation #1: I have a personal or professional relationship that is problematic. What do I do?

Clarify: What is the main purpose of the relationship? What are the boundaries that define the relationship? What are the expectations that each person has of the relationship?
Examine assumptions: What are the assumptions that each person in the relationship has? Are they the same assumptions? Does each person know the assumptions of the other?
Check the rational: Where are the areas of harmony and overlap in the relationship? Where are the areas of conflict? Provide anecdotes or behavior that supports these answers.
Change perspective: What would the other person say about the difficulties I am encountering in the relationship? How do they compare with my perspective?
Consider the implications/consequences: If I redefine the relationship-set up different ground rules-what would happen? How would the other person behave or respond? Is this conflict something that I can live with? If not, which part can I live with and which part can’t I live with?
Reflect on the questions: Is this relationship important enough to me to warrant my asking these questions and my wanting to work things out? Is the other in the relationship interested in working things out, too?

Life situation #2: Life is very stressful. How can I reduce the stress?

Clarify: What do I mean by stressful? How do I feel the stress? When do I feel most stressed? How do I behave when I feel stressed? How does my body react when I feel stressed. Is there a range of stress that I feel?
Examine assumptions: Is having stress a certainty in my life? Is stress something to avoid at all costs? Is stress always bad? Is the issue that I’m feeling stressed about within my control to resolve?
Check the rational: Where specifically does the stress come from? Do I always feel the same level of stress in recurring situations? What is the variable that makes me feels very stressed one time and not another?
Change perspective: Is stress always damaging? Can stress be good sometimes? Do I always need to avoid stress? Can I see a positive in stress? What would life feel like with absolutely no stress? Could I enjoy stress?
Consider the implications/consequences: If I don’t manage my stress what will happen to my health? If I do manage my stress, how would my life be different?
Reflect on the questions: Does thinking about stress help me feel more or less stressed? Is there a reason that at this point in my life I am focused on changing my levels of stress?

You can create a set of prompts to draw from when working on different difficult situations. You may want to create your prompts in your JournalLife program. Here’s how:

1. Click on the “Prompts” button in the application toolbar and the “Prompts” dialog box will appear.
2. Go to File menu>Manage Prompts and the “Manage Prompts” dialog will appear.
3. If you want to add a prompt category, click the “Add” button and a dialog box will appear in which you can enter the new category name. If you want to rename or remove a prompt category, click on an existing prompt category and click the “Rename” or “Remove” button.
4. If you want to enter a new prompt in an existing prompt category, click on the category on the left, click the “New” button and type the new prompt. Click the “Enter” button to enter it into the database.
5. If you want to edit or remove an existing prompt, navigate to it by selecting a prompt category on the left. A list of all prompts within that category will be displayed in the bottom right. Click the prompt that you want to edit, and make the changes, and click the “Enter” button. To remove the selected prompt, click the “Remove” button.

If you are working through an issue, you might want to answer one question a day over the course of a week or two and you’ll certainly have a fuller sense of the issue or problem. Then go back and synthesize your thoughts and feelings and see if your process helps you improve the situation.