All true questions are neutral. If a question is not neutral, then it is not really a question, but rather a statement, or a judgment, disguised as a question. For example, when a mother confronts a child who has just done something really horrible and says “What on earth were you thinking?” She is using a question to scold the child, rather than being genuinely curious about what thought process led up to the incident. The child, hearing the criticism contained within the question will naturally become defensive, and communication breaks down. If on the other hand, the mother asks “Why did you do that?” and she is genuinely curious rather than angry or judgmental, the child will be more inclined to think about the question and respond with honesty. This results in the conversation moving to a whole new level, perhaps evolving into a discussion of how the child wants more attention from an overworked parent. Neutral questions increase intimacy, whereas non-neutral questions create defensiveness and distance.
It is not enough for the words to be neutral. The intent of the questioner must also be neutral. Neutral questions should arise from a curiosity and genuine attempt to better understand. Sometimes it is a matter of seeking clarification. There is a tendency to make judgments about others in our lives, based upon insufficient evidence, and often these judgments are wrong, and can lead to great suffering. Neutral questions present an opportunity to clarify a situation prior to forming an opinion. Other times neutral questions arise from a belief that the other person may well have something more that they can share. Neutral questions should never be used as a back handed way to point out a perceived mistake or deficiency.
• Non-neutral questions and comments often trigger defenses in the subject who do not hear, embrace and integrate the criticism in order to change.
• Non-neutral questions can cause friction and lead to resentment, weaken relationships, and create distance as the subject will pull away and be less inclined to listen to future comments.
• Neutral questions force the questioner to think more deeply before asking their question.
• Neutral questions do not carry a hidden agenda and are open ended. This very open ended quality of a neutral question forces the respondent to think more deeply before answering and often leads the subject to a much better understanding of the subject.
• Asking neutral questions is a valuable skill and takes practice to learn but will serve you well as a Yoga Teacher giving feedback to students, with your family and at work.
• A good neutral question helps the respondent to think deeply about the question and in so doing the conversation is often taken to a deeper level and the relationship between subject and questioner is actually strengthened rather than weakened.
• When a subject answers a neutral question, the questioner sometimes learns that the subject knew exactly what they were doing and why. Now the questioner knows whether their concern was invalid, or whether they need to follow up with another neutral question, or Perhaps make a comment, or voice an opinion.
There are levels of neutrality. Questions that on the surface seem neutral, can often mask buried agendas, biases, or opinions. With practice, our ability to ask truly neutral questions improves, and in so doing, we find that we are able to look out upon the world with curiosity and a desire to seek the truth, rather than striving to control it. It is a fool who tries to answer a question before hearing it, or put forth solutions to a problem they do not yet understand. Neutral questions lead us towards understanding. When a problem is transparent, the solution is easy to see.
In 1989 Charles founded Expanding Paradigms. He teaches and speaks on a diverse range of topics, including: Peak Performance; Mind Mapping; Improving Concentration; Expanding Paradigms; Team Building; Creativity; Stress Management; Breathing; Meaning and Purpose in the Workplace; Yoga; and Meditation.
Charles MacInerney is a member of the National Speaker's Association and a nationally known Yoga teacher. He travels extensively throughout the US, Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala leading retreats and as a professional keynote speaker and corporate trainer. Visit
www.expandingparadigms.com for more information.