Asking the Right Questions Part II: Content

A few weeks ago, I talked about the importance of physical space when it comes to asking the right questions ("not the ones you already know the answer to but ones where you give the person receiving the question power and respect." The right questions then are ones where the client feels heard and respected and ones where you get what you need To recap a bit, space is important because the right environment allows us to better connect with patients or clients...or customers, right?  In this post, we'll talk about the other key factor when it comes to asking the right questions: content.

How many times have you struggled to be polite to a telemarketer? Part of the problem is how telemarketers talk to you. They ask questions that are personal, irrelevant and even rude. That's content. So if you're on the receiving end of a telemarketer asking the wrong questions, you likely hang-up because you don't have to talk to him. But that's not the case with your doctor's office or child's school. They often ask questions that you have to answer in order to get services. And more often than not, they, too, are asking the wrong questions. Not only are the questions offensive but often the manner in which they are asked is problematic. That's content too.

When you are present and available, people have a desire to offer you their authentic self. All you have to do is ask… it’s because of people’s desire to be seen.
— Ann Cuddy, Presence.

No one wants to answer questions that make them feel badly or uncomfortable. But as a provider who needs certain questions answered before you admit a patient / offer a reduced fee / provide services / proceed with the care plan, you sometimes find yourself caught in an unpleasant Catch-22. You need questions answered but you recognize they might feel invasive or too personal. Does this sound familiar? Well, good news. You can get your all questions answered as long as you ask them in a trauma-informed way. Here's how I do it:

My first step to best serve a client by starting with asking the right questions is to do the intake together. I do this for two reasons: because it gives the client an opportunity to know me as a person and I can better read the physical and verbal cues she gives off when we are sitting there together. During our time together, I verbally acknowledge that some questions are personal and could be painful to discuss. Once that advance notice is out there, I begin with gentler questions like self-care or why a support group feels important to her, etc. Later on, I move toward trickier questions and along the way, I remind her she can ask me any questions she wants. Finally, the client never gets a form to complete until after we talk. Only after our initial conversation and if we both feel like she is a good fit for the group, does a form come her way. And only if it is completely necessary. I never ask anyone to fill out paperwork which doesn't make sense to them.

In addition to space, content is king when it comes to getting what you want and need from your patients. Asking questions in a trauma-informed way means you consider the questions themselves (making sure they are the "right" ones) and how they are being asked. When you get both space and content, you're always in a better position to succeed more at what you already do well.