Practice of Asking Open & Honest Questions (Part 1 of 2)

Sections of this topic

    (This information is based on the work of Parker Palmer, John Morefield, and Marcy Jackson, and inspired by the work of Parker J. Palmer and Center for Courage & Renewal. The information was written by Susan Kaplan, M.S.W. )

    Value of Open and Honest Questions

    (Part 2 of 2 will give guidelines for asking open and honest questions.)

    Open and honest questions are a thoughtful pathway for inquiry and discernment, moving us beyond our normal patterns of communication. Often our questions are laden with advice, problem-solving, or meeting our needs to be a “competent leader, good parent, or engaged Helping Professional”. Open & Honest Questions serve to invite a more spacious, authentic conversation. This discernment practice enables us to:

    • Create a more authentic and deeper exploration of “a problem or question” for both the person talking and the one listening;
    • Step away from our tendency to jump to solutions, assign blame, or otherwise approach our exchanges attached to a specific end (teaching with a specific goal in mind, defending what we know, problem-solving, or responding as a “good facilitator” would);
    • Invite a person to explore their own “inner teacher”, calling upon their own wisdom and knowledge of self. This builds capacity for their own leadership from within, by exploring their own assets, truth, questions, and answers. This invites the discovery of their own “hidden wholeness”. A person accesses their inner teacher by thinking about the situation in new ways, applying past learning and experience to now, while listening to both feelings and thoughts. This practice helps others think through on their own before/or instead of you giving direction or input;
    • Support a deeper inner conversation within oneself;
    • Slow down the pace of our conversation and develops a deeper mutual engagement;
    • Expand and deepen an exploration rather than narrow or restrict possibilities;
    • Explore and “hold” important questions or complicated issues. This practice recognizes the significant value in listening without judgment with a view to understanding instead of reacting with a quick, simple, or incomplete answer for an immediate direction (that may make things worse in the long run);
    • Use meaningful metaphors to reframe or help “step out” of the situation;
    • Invite more authentic responses rather than second-guessing the “right answer”;
    • Changes the dynamic of our tendency to want to fix, “save”, change, or give advice. In these responses, we see the person as “broken” or with deficits. Our new role is to create a safe and meaningful process in which we help the person access their own “hidden wholeness”.

    For many related, free online resources, see the following Free Management Library’s topics:


    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 800-971-2250
    Read my blogs: Boards, Consulting and OD, and Strategic Planning.