Power of Presence Series
Individual Track Learning Guide
Lesson Three: Curiosity
Questions Worth Considering
Best Practices – (Choose at Least One)
1) “Most of all, relationship mindfulness requires not forgetting the authentic, valid experience of the other person as well as of yourself. Even if the other person has said or done something you do not like, his or her experiences, needs, and desires are valid. Even if your own emotional responses are difficult to tolerate, they are valid.” – Jeremy Schwartz, LCSW
An important part of validating the feelings of others is to listen and summarize what they have expressed. By rephrasing or inferring what you have just heard, you are showing your desire to understand what the other person is going through. You may get feedback that you are understanding them incorrectly, which is important information as well. Getting it “wrong” is a perfect time to use open-ended questions and empathetic curiosity to gain clarity and accurate understanding.
Some examples of summarizing and rephrasing are as follows:
“It sounds like the constant pain is really getting you discouraged.”
“It must have been a very bad night.”
“I think I understand: you are worried about possible side effects, and that makes you afraid to try new medications.”
“It seems like things are getting a little bit better, but you were hoping for more.”
This week, make a concerted effort to validate others’ feelings by summarizing what you have heard. Record your insights.
2) “So often—and this is reinforced by our social context—we make assumptions rather than being curious. In conversations with others, we think ahead to what we are going to say next, or we make interpretations about the meaning of what the other person is saying. What if, rather than interpreting or analyzing another person’s words or actions, we were to remain curious about the many possibilities for what the person may be thinking or feeling?” – Jeremy Schwartz, LCSW
Spend one day making an effort to stay present with those you talk to. Don’t think ahead, analyze the conversation, or mentally drift away. Make an effort to ask at least three curiosity-driven questions during the course of each exchange.
3) “To have empathic curiosity is to ask open-ended questions that cause the patient to think differently about how they perceive their situation and to problem-solve in more effective ways. In other words, it engages the patient. It’s more than just “putting yourself in their shoes”, it’s the desire to know, combined with an interest in understanding, complemented by a direct action that is clearly articulated to the patient.” – Larry Laveman, LCSW, BCD
Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a simple yes/no answer – they require critical thinking. “The best single mark of an honest, open question is that the questioner could not possibly anticipate the answer to it.” – Parker Palmer
The following is an excerpt from the article “The Redemptive Power of Questions” by Terry Chadsey of The Center for Courage & Renewal:
It takes practice to ask an open, honest question. Look for a question without an agenda, without a right/wrong answer, and where you couldn’t possibly predict the answer.
It also takes a willingness to listen with a different ear. Ask an honest, open question and truly wait for the answer. Let silence fill the space while you wait. Resist the urge to come up with a witty response or a corrective comeback. Give your genuine presence.
Make a list of five possible open-ended questions you could use in your caregiving interactions. Some examples include:
- Can you tell me what you’re feeling?
- How can I best help you?
- What is most important right now?