- Dave, what does, “I’ll deal with that later when I have more time” really mean? How much later?
- Do you sense that, as a group, we’re growing in compassion toward one another? If not, what is standing in the way?
These questions help members understand what has been said and sometimes reveal contradictions in people’s statements or thinking. Often they begin with, “Help me understand,” but they also look like these examples:
- You said you like this guy. But a minute ago you said he sometimes “really scares” you. That sounds like a contradiction to me: liking someone who really scares you.
- I confess I feel a little off track. Where are we headed in this discussion right now? It seems like there are several issues all floating around in the conversation.
Transformation is always the work of the Spirit, but leaders have been given the responsibility to create environments for the Spirit to work. We are stewards of the truth, of the process, and of the people, shepherding and guiding them along the path as we’re able. Using these questions as tools is not just a group dynamics technique—it’s a way to practically guide a discussion as we sense the Spirit moving in our group. And we model this kind of questions-asking so that others soon do the same with one another.
Avoid Common Discussion Killers
Finally, there are comments and behaviors that can shut down a productive discussion in a heartbeat. As the leader, you’ll need to put a stop to them. Here are four biggies to look out for.
Snap judgments and misplaced assumptions about people or reality are inappropriate:
You've got to be kidding, Mike! I would never do that with my kid. Don't you care about his future?
This kind of content is less about an issue and more of an attack against a person. You have to separate the issue from the person. As Henry Cloud often says, "Be hard on the issue, soft on the person."
If Mike can’t push back appropriately, feels attacked, and shuts down, you might have to intervene and model a better response:
Wait a minute, Jim. Let's not jump all over Mike. That sounded personal more than simply disagreement with an idea. Mike, tell us a little more about your thinking behind this approach, and why it's important to you. And, if you’re open, perhaps we can each talk about different ways we handle this kind of thing. But let's stay on the issue. We all want to raise our kids as best we can, despite different approaches and ideas.
The “preachers” in your group are quick to tell everyone how they should be acting. They jump right in and start fixing things. Susan shares about how difficult it is to work with a fellow employee who can be rude and disruptive on her team. Cassandra immediately begins to preach: “Susan, you need to read a great book called, Handling Difficult Team Members at Work. It really helped me. There are five ideas there you just have to use. It'll show you how to shut that guy down. I remember when I . . .”
Instead of first seeking to understand Susan's situation and empathize with her frustrations, our preacher has already jumped in with a sermon on what to do. Once again, you might have to intervene and suggest the group pauses and connects with Susan before offering solutions.