Conversations and discussions are essential tools for learning, growth, and building relationships. But not all conversations are created equal, and the way we ask questions can have a significant impact on the quality and openness of the conversation. One type of question that can be particularly problematic is the leading question (or in German: Suggestiv-Frage).
What is a leading question?
A leading question is a question that suggests a particular answer or response. It is designed to steer the conversation in a certain direction, often to support the agenda or perspective of the person asking the question. For example, "Don't you think that climate change is the most urgent issue we face?" is a leading question, as it implies that climate change is the most pressing issue, and assumes that the other person agrees.
Why are leading questions problematic?
Leading questions can be problematic for several reasons. First, they can limit the range of responses and perspectives that are shared. If someone feels that they are expected to provide a certain answer, they may be less likely to share their true thoughts and opinions. This can stifle creativity, innovation, and learning.
Second, leading questions can create a power imbalance in the conversation. The person asking the questions has more control over the direction of the conversation than the person answering. This can lead to a feeling of discomfort or mistrust, and may ultimately undermine the goal of having an open and productive conversation.
Third, leading questions can be manipulative. If someone is trying to convince others of a particular point of view, they may use leading questions to make their argument more persuasive. This can be especially problematic if the person asking the questions is in a position of authority or influence, as it can be difficult for others to challenge their perspective.
How can we avoid leading questions?
To have an open and productive conversation, it's important to avoid asking leading questions. Instead, focus on asking open-ended questions that allow for a wide range of responses and perspectives. Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, and invite the other person to share their thoughts and experiences. For example, "What do you think are the most urgent issues we face today?" is an open-ended question that invites the other person to share their perspective.
Another way to avoid leading questions is to ask clarifying questions. Clarifying questions are questions that help to clarify what the other person means or intends to say. For example, "Can you tell me more about what you mean by that?" is a clarifying question that can help to deepen the conversation and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
In conclusion, leading questions can be detrimental to open and productive conversations. By avoiding leading questions and focusing on open-ended questions and clarifying questions, we can create an environment that is more conducive to learning, growth, and collaboration.
Motivational Interviewing as an alternative
Motivational interviewing is an approach to communication that is particularly relevant when it comes to leading questions. Developed by psychologists William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick, motivational interviewing is a technique used in counseling and healthcare settings to help people explore and resolve ambivalence about behavior change. The approach emphasizes the importance of empathy, collaboration, and avoiding the use of leading questions or persuasive techniques.
In motivational interviewing, open-ended questions and reflective listening are used to help people clarify their goals and values, and explore the reasons behind their behavior. The focus is on helping people to discover their own reasons for change, rather than imposing external motivation or pressure. This approach can be particularly effective in promoting behavior change, as people are more likely to be motivated and committed to change when they feel that it is aligned with their own values and priorities.
In the context of open conversations, the principles of motivational interviewing can be helpful in creating a more collaborative and supportive environment. By focusing on empathy, respect, and non-judgmental listening, we can help to build trust and create a safe space for exploration and growth. This can lead to more open and honest conversations, and can help to promote learning and understanding for all participants.