Curious questioning refers to asking questions that really are open ended – not supposing any particular answer but rather trying to gather information that we are genuinely curious about.
Very often when we ask questions, there are certain answers we are really looking for. We may be trying to get someone to admit something, or to agree with us, by signaling what we think the answer should be. We might ask “You did want to go to the party tonight, didn’t you?” or “Don’t you think that yellow is the wrong color for the kitchen?” We also might be trying to shame the other person or get something we can use against them, such as “Where where you last night?” or “Is there a reason you didn’t do what I asked?”
However, when we really need information, we need to ask questions in a way that do not suggest the answer or put the other person on the defensive, or we are likely to get back what the other person thinks we want to hear rather than what we actually need.
In Mediation or Collaborative dispute resolution, we often need to know what a person is really thinking or feeling, so that we can start to work with them to develop some solutions that they will be comfortable with. If both parties don’t understand the viewpoint of the other, they will be talking past each other and not accomplishing much. Therefore curious questioning is a skill that we have to work on to draw out answers that will help us understand the concerns of each party.
This can be harder than it sounds. We read a lot of meaning into inflection, body language, and context, so it is not just about the words used. Depending on tone and context, the simple question “What time did you get in?” could be completely non-threatening or fraught with danger.
If we are going to work to come to voluntary agreements, the skill of curious questioning is an important one to develop.