Sharing questions

Dear Fellow Journalers,

Have you ever been in a group where each of the participants was given an assignment that had an assigned completion date and the results of their findings had to be made verbally at the meeting? Most of us have had that experience. Have you ever been late with the assignment or witnessed someone who was? Besides the feelings of embarrassment  there’s also the reaction of the moderator’s to consider, who probably is your boss.

Roberta Hestenes, who was a small group dynamics expert in California in the 1980’s had that experience with a man we’ll call “Fred”.” Fred” failed to complete his assigned task and Roberta was irritated but simply instructed “Fred” to bring the finished information to the next meeting. You would think that “Fred” being let off the hook would complete the assignment and have it ready for the next meeting. But no, he failed again. Roberta was beyond angry. “Fred’s” work was holding up every body’s else’s project. The next meeting she decided to try something new and that changed everything not only for “Fred” but for everyone in her organization.

Roberta gathered everyone in a circle and began with this sharing question: “If you wish to share, tell about a high point and a low point of the past week.” The participants went around the table until they came to “Fred.” “A high point?” he mumbled. “There really wasn’t one. It’s all pretty much a low point. My wife is terminally ill and we’ve brought her home to die. I’m trying to hold down this job while caring for our three young children. Things are pretty rough right now.”  Roberta and everyone was speechless. Roberta had no idea her employee had been having so much difficulty in his life because  she had never asked.

That day, Roberta made a commitment to herself. Whenever she led a group discussion she would first offer people the opportunity to share what was going on in their lives. It might be the only time all week that someone expressed interest and received compassion.

One of the participants in the above group went on to form her own company. Following her previous boss’s example, she used sharing questions in her meetings. Some of the questions were: “If your home was burning and you only had time to bring out three objects what would they be?”, “How did your parent’s decide your name?” and a really telling question was “What was your dream job when you were 21?”

Sharing questions develop empathy and community and I think they are worthwhile. What about you?


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