When I was younger, questions seemed like tests. Did I know the answers, had I done what I was supposed to, did I think the right way, make the proper connections? I did not appreciate questions. And I did not develop the skill to ask them.
When I was in my 30's a woman came into my life whom I recognized as someone with this skill. Patty could ask something that provoked deeper thinking, challenged assumptions, but rarely made others feel inadequate. There was a freedom to examine thoughts, to work out what you did think, related to your own experiences, what you really knew. Much later, when I read about Socratic dialogue, I realized that her approach was related to this technique. Perhaps many people learned about this in school. I had an unusual education, so I don't know if this was just something I missed or if it isn't an ordinary teaching.
My own questions of others often feel stiff, coming out of my own reluctance to be "offensive". I think I come across as preachy, awkward. And yet, on occasion I've stumbled on one that has worked well.
One week in Sunday School, we were working on a project and a child was blowing it off. He was being disruptive, trying to distract others who were quite happily engaged. I'm very fond of him and yet was annoyed with his behavior. Instead of trying to reason with him, to get him to go along, it occurred to me to ask him "Is this the best that you can do?" He just stopped and looked at me, then shook his head, "no". He settled down and finished the rest of the project, seemingly satisfied with his new effort.
My children and grandchildren can attest to the fact that I'm not well practiced in this art. I think, sometimes, they must shake their heads to themselves at my clumsiness. I do have a few friends who are really good at asking the questions. I make a point of paying attention to how they do this. How do you have meaningful conversation with people who have different views from yours? How do you find out how someone came to their position without inferring that they're wrong? How do we use this tool for transformation in ourselves and for the world we'd like to see?