The Art of Asking Questions During Dialogue

Yamun Sharma, Generation Global Alumni Moderator

Learning is to a healthy dialogue what nutrients are to a healthy diet. Just like you cannot stay healthy by eating junk food, you cannot be a dialogue master by just having a dialogue as a formality and not learning anything from it. That is why young people should seek to gain as much knowledge and experience out of their global peers as they can. Fortunately, there is some good news, we can ask questions! It is an easy hack for you to extract the experiences of other Global Citizens and without this element, the dialogue is incomplete and dull.

When you ask questions, you not only clarify your doubts but also keep the space active and lively. Imagine if somebody just talks about something for a long time and is not open to any questions or suggestions, then how boring it turns out to be. Even the teachers who are more successful with teaching students efficiently ask interesting questions and encourage the students to participate in the classroom. Sometimes, they even go beyond the school syllabus to answer the questions their students might have. Similarly, when you demonstrate curiosity and answer the questions from your global peers, you can keep a high-quality dialogue going on.

Through the Video Conferences at Generation Global and by being active in the dialogue spaces, you can get a safe and fun platform to build the essential dialogue skills, including the questioning skill. While interacting with your global peers, you can be fearless and ask them all the different questions that come into your mind. However, never forget to be respectful while dialoguing with your peers. You should be mindful of the way you are formulating your questions. It is important to always sound humble so that you do not end up hurting the other person’s feelings. Insensitive questions like “Are you kidding?” or “Can I say that you are wrong?” should be avoided in all cases as they do not contribute positively to the dialogue. If you feel that you will be uncomfortable if someone asks you the same question you are about to ask, consider changing your question to something more respectful and considerate.

To learn the questioning skill better and quickly, there are some points that can help you while asking questions.

  1. Asking to Get Doubts Clarified: This is the most common situation where asking questions is most useful. You did not understand clearly what was said, maybe because of the pronunciation of the speaker, or if there is some jargon used, or even when you do not get the context of something.

    The following could be some simple examples of this type of question during a dialogue on a video call
    i) If you did not hear what one of your peers said due to an internet connection problem, speaker’s pronunciation, accent, or just because you were distracted (it happens sometimes and it is normal, to be honest about it) ask them politely: ‘Hey! I did not hear what you said, could you please repeat it once again?’ or ‘could you please speak a bit slowly?’
    ii) If you did not understand the meaning of something, for instance, if someone included some difficult words or mentioned something from their tradition/culture that you would like them to explain, go ahead and ask them: ‘So, it would be really helpful if you could explain the meaning of the word/concept that you just mentioned.

  2. Asking Questions to Help Others Participate: These questions are meant to be used as a feedback system as they encourage people to interact and reassure them that you are open to input from others. These questions are also used to make the other person realize that you are listening to them.
    Not everyone is good enough at explaining every detail of the topic they are talking about in just a single go, and this is completely fine if you are open to feedback and questions from others. As an example, you could say: ‘That is interesting, could you tell me more about that?’ or ‘Why is that tradition so important to you and your family?’
  3. Asking to Learn More (Open-Ended Questions): There is this bonus trick to learn more. It is a way to ask questions to carry forward the dialogue and make it memorable. If you want to become a real dialogue master, then just practising the essential questioning skills will not be enough. You should go beyond the scope of asking questions just to clarify doubts. As a dialogue master, you can ask questions to know and understand even things that may or may not be a part of the current dialogue. This would be opening the door to a new topic or a different dialogue altogether. For that reason, they are called open-ended questions. These questions are those that build dialogues the best and make dialogue spaces more fun. You ask these questions more subjectively to avoid getting a confined reply, like normally a yes or no answer. You can ask your peers after sharing an experience of yours, if they have had similar experiences, and what they learned from them. You can also ask your peers to share about their culture, values, or beliefs in detail.

    A good question of this kind would be:

    ‘In my country, Japan, we have a prominent festival called Natsu Matsuri, which translates to the Summer Festival in English. We dress up in traditional Japanese attire and attend the festival at a large, adorned venue, usually a temple. There are shops and stalls set up specially for this festival. They sell great Japanese food and souvenirs. There are also beautiful fireworks that everyone enjoys. What significant festivals do you have in your country?’

    This question demonstrates good dialogue skills as it is open to different answers and people would share their unique experiences. Also, it is important to share your experiences before asking a question so that your peers understand what kind of an answer you expect from them.

As a global citizen, with considerable experience with people from various cultural, linguistic, national, academic, and professional backgrounds, I would say that asking questions and demonstrating curiosity leads to wonderful memories. I remember, every single time that I asked questions, people were more interested in sharing their wonderful experiences with me. They felt more comfortable and many of them even became my close global friends. I believe that being curious never goes in vain. The least it can do is to assure the other person that you are listening to them. As a speaker, it indicates to your listeners that you are open to input and want to have a splendid dialogue.

Now, this is your time to practise asking great questions, enlighten yourself with the knowledge of your global peers, and become a dialogue master by remaining curious.

Learn more about how young people participating in the Ultimate Dialogue Adventure can apply to join our Alumni programme.