The Art of Open Questions

How do I ask questions that serve another?

What do open and expansive questions feel like?

Where do these questions come from?

In the quiet circles I facilitate, online exclusively this past year, I guide participants in a process of learning how to ask the questions that serve another in accessing inner wisdom. The practice of asking truly open questions lies at the heart of the Clearness Committee experience: an encounter that relies on centuries of thoughtful intention.

I have found it helpful to describe the art of questions in a set of guidelines and principles. I offer below that emerging set of understandings. Yet it must be admitted that these questions are sensed most clearly in a facilitated Circle of Trust. Beginning Feb. 1, 2021, I am offering a deeper dive into all this learning: The Clearness Committee: An Immersive Learning Exploration

The Art of Open Questions

Getting clear about the purpose of an open question is essential.

The intention is sensed by the one receiving a question.

Our purpose with open questions is not to be a problem-solver.

Our purpose is to support another person in accessing their own inner wisdom.

An open question is a question that has ‘no answer’ yet freely invites a response.

The response to an open question is not directed back to the questioner but is a tentative self-revelation. The response is self-disclosure for the sake of the self.

Whatever emerges is part of an open exploration of whatever is evoked and can be spoken at that moment.

Open questions are never in the control of the questioner. The question is ‘placed’ in a sacred space between us: a bordered central space that we protect. From there, the one responding is allowed to receive and experience in the question what the inner teacher reveals.

An open question is a blank envelope that contains a question. The envelope is opened by the one receiving the question. The question they discover is the one they are ready to receive. This is the ‘question behind the question’.

The soul has an immune system. It senses invading agendas and coercion, even when these are subtle. When the soul detects a dishonest question that is not open, the defenses activate and the responses become self-conscious in a way that blocks self-revelation. An open question is archetypal, universal and natural. The soul recognizes the question as ‘friendly’: indeed as part of the soul itself because it comes from a place of soulfulness and honesty. The soul’s immune system relaxes and a greater degree of vulnerability is possible.

An open question is a mystery. There is no anticipated outcome nor any ‘correct answer’.

An open question is directed to the experience of the person; they are not directed to help analyze the situation or to understand the facts of the problem.

Open questions offer an opportunity to explore the richness of the present inner landscape and the inter-connected tensions. They are less directed at the backstory of how events came to be nor what future decisions should be made.

Open questions are not asked for the sake of mutual understanding. They are not asked to satisfy the questioner’s curiosity nor to seek information for analysis.

An open question stays literally faithful to the specific language being used without paraphrasing, assuming a meaning to another’s words, nor interpreting.

Open questions are brief and to the point. They don’t require defence. There is no need to offer explanations nor any rationales for asking them.

Open questions are not questions that restrict a reply to binary ‘yes-no’ answers.

If you have an intuition that a certain question might be useful, even if it seems a bit “off the wall,” you can trust it—once you have some clarity that it is an open question.

If you aren’t sure about a particular question, sit with it and wait for clarity. Trust the silence to gently ask a better question until you are ready with the question you will offer.

Be attentive to the pacing of the questions, allowing some silence for further responses. Provide an opportunity for another to revisit a previous response and to ‘winnow some grain’. This gives another the invitation to hear their own emerging questions from the previous response.

Remember! Learning to ask honest, open questions is challenging. We may slip occasionally into old fixing habits and need forgiveness from others and from ourselves. As the old saying goes, “Forgive and remember!”

-Dan Hines, 2021