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Gently Curious Questions...


Continuing our conversation from the post on Monday, Safe Listening, combined with gently curious questions softly probe thoughts and ideas causing others to learn more about themselves while you are also gaining information. These types of questions allow you to drill down and get a deeper understanding of the circumstances that may be contributing to one’s emotional distress.


An emotional person cannot hear facts.


I say that when someone is hurt, frustrated, confused, or at their wits end, the best way to connect is not to give them information to try to fix their situation. It is best to first connect with them emotionally by engaging with gently curious questions.


Empathy can be the best way of connecting and defusing an issue with them in this emotional state. Generally, when an emotional person presents their issue with a sense of anxiety, it seems the cultural approach is to “fix them.” This is the last thing they are looking for and can cause more anxiety. As their anxiety rises, so will yours, and if you're not careful, an argument will ensue that will usually not address the original one's anxiety and will cause distance in the conversation and thus the relationship.



Someone says, “I am not smart, or I am dumb,” our cultural response is, “You are so smart, or No you’re not dumb.” Notice how easy it is to interpret their statement as “they” are wrong. Now they can feel confused, frustrated, and wrong. The idea is to gently come along side of them in conversation, so they can talk more about their emotional energy rather than hear my attempt to fix them.


Let me stop here and say that in my way of thinking, asking “why” is not gently curious. Why can mean prove to me and I bet you can’t. Why can be loaded with so much energy behind it that no answer can cause connection or diffuse the energy generated by it.


Example: “Why are you late”, or “Why didn’t you return my call?"


These are 'why' questions are repelling and not attracting.


“Help me understand?” or “How come?” These are great gently curious questions. Opening with these questions will connect you rather than starting with the “Why.” Additional questions could be, “What else can you tell me about this?” “What is not being said that needs to be said about this issue?” “What do you need from me?”


Do not challenge the answers to any gently curious questions immediately, this will allow you to drill down and generate another gently curious question.


Example: The issue is, “I’m not very smart.”


Dad: How long have you been thinking that way?

Son: Since my last look at my grades.

Dad: What did your grades tell you?

Son: That I have all c’s and one b. I know you don’t think I’m smart.

Dad: How come you don’t think I think you are smart? (notice, I didn’t respond and disagree)

Son: Because my grades are down.

Dad: Do you think I love you if your grades are down?

Son: No.

Dad: How come? (again, I didn’t challenge their wrong impression of me)

Son: Because you are always asking about my grades.

Dad: How can I support you without asking about your grades?

Son: I don’t know, maybe just help me when I need it.

Dad: I can do that.


Now, I wait a minimum of 2 hrs. and return and ask, “Remember when you said that you were not smart, would it be okay if I disagree with that, (another gently curious question) I think you are very smart.


It is easier for them to hear my disagreement or my compliment after their anxiety recedes.



These and other gently curious questions can foster connection, allowing you to return to the person later and share some of your thoughts and ideas. You will not connect as well if you offer advice or attempt to fix too soon.


Employ these gently curious questions and look for the blind spots.




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You can get a copy of my book below.

Blind Spots in Relationships

What I don't know I don't know about myself



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