Monday, July 12, 2010

Answering Questions

In the last newsletters we have come to understand that, in a critical conversation, one side makes claims and the other side asks questions about the claims. The purpose for this seesaw is to generate understanding about each side’s perspective. The role of claimant and inquirer change places throughout the conversation until, ideally, there is a clear understanding of the available perspectives and a resolution is reached. Following the model I have been writing about recently will help you not only to come to understand other perspectives, but to prepare yourself before you present a new idea. Prepare you to understand what questions are likely to be put to you, and to respond with credible and solid information.

The purpose of the next few newsletters will be to help categorize the three types of supporting evidence that are used to justify claims just as we categorized the four kinds of claims that can be made. Most people, including myself, have experienced some degree of nervousness when being asked for justification of a certain point of view, but being asked for it is certainly to be expected and, in fact, to be encouraged in order to promote a full understanding of one’s perspective. By developing these evidence categories, I hope to focus the way you look at the types of responses for which you would ask for or would be asked. This will reduce the difficulty in preparing for or responding to instances when you either need to ask for clarification, or may be asked to supply it. Being prepared is an important aspect of maintaining a confident attitude.

For now I want you to adopt a certain attitude about the questions that you ask, or are asked, that relate to a critical conversation. I want you to view them as requests. They are requests for further information regarding a claim being made. They are not attacks, or tricks, or attempts ot make you look foolish (not that they can’t be, but I want you to lose the attitude that they are). Just view them as unbiased requests that are either relevant to resolving the matter at hand or not. Further, recognize that even if they answer is obvious to you, it may not be to the person asking. So give them the benefit of the doubt and answer it as if they truly need the answer to understand your perspective.

Finally, for this week, view them as requests for one of three specific kinds of information:

1) Information that you have because of your expertise and credibility

2) Information that you have because you possess some kind of tangible item (data, statistics, photographs, recordings, printed material, etc) that they don’t have and making It available to them will increase their understanding.

3) Information that is common knowledge, but that they somehow are unaware of or fail to connect with the issue at hand.

Your job is to respond to their request with one of these types of information. We will go into detail next time.

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