Further Techniques: Great Questions

Technique: Asking Good Questions

Questions are the heart of mediation. I like to think that when we ask our children good questions, we are educating them in the highest and purest sense; after all, the Latin word educare means “drawing or leading out.” Try to ask questions that are probing and curious. The key is to be inquisitive without being inquisitional. When people catch the scent of accusation or distrust, they shut down. (Obviously, a self-protective stance is not conducive to open communication. You are questioning for understanding, not to “catch” someone or corner him. ) Staying neutral is your touchstone when you mediate. The tone of your questions will protect – or undermine – the process.

The goal is to get your children sharing information. You'll find that questions with a “yes or no” answer don't yield much material. Try to frame questions that are wide enough to drive a truck through! It’s okay if you don't know what the answer will be – in fact, it's even better if you can't imagine where things are going. That means the kids can determine the direction of the mediation themselves. You are only there to maintain the flow and keep the tone respectful. You do this in part by keeping the questions coming – questions that are curious, imaginative, empathetic and non-judgmental. A good mediator models openness of heart and mind.

Always wonder about the feeling under the feeling, or the feeling before the feeling. Siblings are used to having their brothers and sisters “mad” at them. “Mad” might be so commonplace that it's a little boring. For example, it's enlightening for Henry to learn that before his sister Luisa got mad at him she was frightened (or disgusted or saddened, for example) by what he did. The final emotion that she has presented to him (“mad”) can be traced back to something else that is actually quite different, and this knowledge might be useful to Henry in reflecting upon his behavior.

Keep the good questions coming!

Tip: Here are some questions that are “wide enough to drive that truck through”

What's going on?

What do you think happened?

How did you feel about that?/How did that affect your feelings?

How did you feel when [s]he said that?

Do you remember how you felt when it first happened?

What would it take for you to feel differently about this?

What happened right before that?

How were you feeling right before that?

Is there something you'd like to bring up that you're maybe a little worried about discussing?

Could you talk a little more about that?

What did you want/expect him/her to do?

What will it look like if this happens again?

What would it feel like to do it in this new way instead?

Does this remind you of something else?

What did you mean when you said ______________?

What's really, really important to you about this?

What will if feel like for you if we don't solve this?

What would it take for you to feel like we've solved this?

Can you say that another way so [s]he might understand you better?

How did you...?

Why did you...?