After a week of doctor visits, I’m feeling the pain – more than what I went in to be seen for – the pain of poor communication, as different docs assumed that they knew the answer to my problem and didn’t bother to ask the right questions – which can make all the difference between assuming and actually being correct.
My issue was with an overly long bout with hoarseness, not painful, but just annoying since my vocation involves speaking engagements. My GP and an allergist were individually and separately sure that my hoarseness was caused by reflux, since I mentioned having experienced some heartburn. So they both jumped right on that detail and assumed that was the end of that – problem solved – case closed – on to the next patient. But I was sure that it wasn’t reflux and the 3rd doc, an ENT, confirmed it by asking the right questions. What triggers the heartburn? How often does it occur –how many times a week/month have you had it over the last year? The answers revealed that reflux, while potentially an aggravator, wasn’t the primary culprit. Now why couldn’t the other 2 docs have taken a little extra time to ask some probing questions (and save me extra doc visits)?
In many jobs other than the medical profession, asking great questions is a great skill to have. Not just in the asking, but in thinking to ask them in the first place. There is knowing what to ask, there is remembering to ask, and then there is applying one answer to your next question. And not just posing curiosity questions (“why did you do that?” which goes to behavior explanations, usually emotional reasons), but asking probing questions (“why do you think that?” which goes to mental processes and missing information that the person may reveal). Some people call this process ‘peeling the onion’ – not that it’s painful and tears may be involved (!) – that there are many layers to an answer and you need to dig down deep, layer by layer, to get to the heart of the matter.
The best salespeople do this well – helping the customer realize their need the value that the solution addresses. Caregivers should be skillful at this – determining the real needs of their client beyond the outward symptoms. Parents should probe into children’s questions to insure understanding in their developing brains. Remembering children don’t think like adults, this is important to do, as they try to make sense of a confusing world.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: Probing questions have two major benefits: 1) they show that the person is really listening – a most valued gift of 100% of your full attention, and 2) they reflect a level of caring – a great relationship enhancer, since caring is usually appreciated and often reciprocated. Acquiring the skill of asking great questions really opens up the communication channel.