Listening Skill #2: The 5-Question Technique
On the one hand, this listening technique is completely natural. When we want to know more, what do we do? We ask. On the other hand, what makes this technique different is that in-between the questions, we listen to each of the child’s responses that we’re getting and
think of another question related to that response instead of coming out with our own ideas (such as corrections, lectures, or other input).
The only purpose here is to better understand where your child is coming from. This will help you give a much better response when you decide to give your own ideas. Here’s a list of tips for using this technique.
Try to ASK FIVE QUESTIONS IN A ROW–without expressing a single idea of your own. No objections, no explanations, no criticisms. If you don’t understand what was said, ask “What do you mean?” All this will help you know what to say when you finally do offer the child your ideas. If you can’t do five questions, do three. If you can’t do three, do two. Practice building up to five.
When to use the technique? Anytime! Use it in casual conversation with your child when you want to hear how things are going with him/her, or when you want to know how s/he thinks or feels about anything at all. This way s/he’ll get used to you being interested and asking questions about more important things, too.
When NOT to use the technique? When the child refuses to talk, and when you are angry. Calm down first, and bring it up later with the child.
Tips for asking questions. Asking good questions isn’t easy! Here are a lot of tips. Obviously, you won’t remember all of them. Pick out a few that seem important to you, and keep them in mind when in a conversation. As you work at this, you will get better at it.
- Avoid “yes-no” type questions–they don’t invite the child’s self-expression.
- Avoid “why” questions. It’s too easy to respond with “I don’t know.”
- Use questions that start with: who, what, where, when, or how (wwwwh). The best ones tend to be “what” and “how” questions.
- Don’t ask a question more than once; don’t explain why you’re asking.
- You WILL hear things you don’t want to hear. Listen anyway–ask more questions!
- Don’t take anything they say personally. It’s not about YOU. It’s about them!
Don’t ask a question you already know the answer to.
Don’t interrupt the answer you are getting.
When a child talks, be ready to LISTEN. With your mouth shut–except to acknowledge what he says, reflect back what he says, or toask more questions.
Watch your tone of voice. Don’t sound crabby, suspicious, or challenging. Show genuine interest.
Use eye contact if possible. Get down to the child’s height if possible.(This is not always necessary, however. It might be easier, and reduce some of the tension, if both of you are looking straight ahead, as when you’re dirivng the car or watching TV together.)
You can always ask questions hours, days, after the problem event, tantrum, etc.
Never assume you know the answer to a question. When s/he talks, you know!
Take the child at his word. Believe what he says. Think of another question. If you think he’s lying, follow my tips on lying.
Start asking questions only if you have time to LISTEN to the answers and ask more questions.
If he uses foul language, don’t correct him. Later you can remind him that you don’t care for that kind of language. Let it go at that, and don’t lecture. Kids already know how you feel about it.
Don’t allow yourself to be distracted from hearing an answer by trying to think of the next question. Don’t be afraid to be silent after you get a response. Take short pause to think of a good question. The child will wait for you.
If s/he asks why you’re not saying anything right away, say, “I’m not quite sure what to say.” Or, “I’m trying to think of how to respond.”
When you hear something you know you want to respond to later (after further listening), make a mental note of it. You might jot a word down on paper and go back to it later and say what you have to say when it’s your turn to talk.
You will hear things you don’t want to hear, such as:
* Criticisms of YOU. This might even include insults.
* Complaints about you, your behavior, your rules.
* Misinterpretations of something you did or said in the past–weeks, months, or even years ago!
*Swear words. Although these are disrespectful, they are not as bad as destructive actions or behaviors. Do not swear back! Express your dislike for that kind of language, but don’t stoop to the child’s level of using it.
* Don’t take any of these thing personally. Don’t respond angrily or defensively. Instead, ask more questions.
The first idea of your own that you express should be an ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF WHAT YOUR CHILD EXPRESSED TO YOU. Do this only after you have really listened, and have asked however many questions in a row that you want to ask.
.* “I really appreciate your sharing your ideas (feelings) with me, Johnny.”
*“Well, I didn’t know you had so many thoughts (feelings) about all of this.”
* “Thank you for talking about this, Mary.”
* “It makes me feel good that you have so much to say about this, and that you are willing to share your thoughts and feelings with me.”
* “What I hear you saying is, ……. (put the child’s ideas into your own words). Is that right?”
DON’T PUNISH–ASK MORE QUESTIONS. After you express a couple of your own ideas, try asking more questions to see what the child thinks of your ideas, before yyou expressing more of them. Whatever you do, don’t lecture, belittle, or otherwise punish the child for sharing their ideas and/or feelings with you. It may have been difficult for her to share this way. You want her to trust you in the future, so she can be open and honest with you.
INVITE COOPERATION BY ASKING FOR AN AGREEMENT. After you acknowledge what the child said, try to co-create something new with him/her. Invite their cooperation and their suggestions for solutions by asking another question. If you want to propose a solution, ask if s/he is willing to hear what your ideas are. If yes, state your ideas and then ask something like:
*“What can we agree on here?”
* “What do you think we should try to do about this?”
* “So, now what would you like to see happen?”
* “Would you be willing to XYZ ?”
* “So now what would you like me to do?”
(Asking these question doesn’t mean you have to do what they say! You are mainly trying to get the child’s ideas about what s/he wants from you. You KNOW s/he wants SOMETHING! Why not ask, and find out what it is? Then you can decide if you want to do what they suggest, or if you want to do something different.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.