We use questions for all sorts of things. To assess and create plans of care, to find out information about topics or other people of interest, to understand another’s point of view, or to interrogate suspects.
Sometimes intention plays a role in the types or manner in which we ask a question. “Is that your green car over there?”, could be an effort to help you avoid a parking ticket, find out if you’re the one who ran over my bike, learn more about your color preferences in automobiles, or see if you’d be willing to give me a ride! And of course, intention can be influenced by our relationship, e.g. friends, strangers, colleagues, etc.
Okay, so those are some of the more common characteristics about questions, but here’s a thought you might not have considered.
Do we use questions to avoid assertiveness?
Actually I just did it!
I could have said:
We use questions to avoid assertiveness!
See the difference? The statement is confident and I present myself as an expert! I’m writing this blogpost and teach communication so it makes sense that I would have an opinion, and an educated one at that! Why don’t I just state my point? (Oops, another question!). I should just state my point. Even better, I’ll state my point!
Nurses will especially relate to the idea that we are giving our power away when we ask questions of physicians that we know or suspect the answer to.
Did you want to order a CXR?
Notice how this is emotionally safer and deferential, but I give up my power. The CXR and my input may or may not be ordered. Business as usual! 🙂
I think a CXR would be a good idea!
In the second example, the physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant can agree and thank me for the suggestion and the CXR decision is shared. If she does not agree, she’ll have an opportunity to role model and teach collaborative leadership by thanking me for my input and explaining why a CXR wouldn’t be a good idea in this situation. My value is noted in either case, our professional relationship deepens, and the patient gets a helpful test or doesn’t get an unnecessary one!
Here’s another example:
Did you know that patient is allergic to penicillin?
That patient is allergic to penicillin!
Asserting what we know or what we think is a great way to build awareness of the value we bring to the table. I continue to learn about this by taking and teaching improv. In fact, not long ago I discussed this very concept in a podcast for NAIMP.org and if you listen closely you’ll hear me actually ask a question and correct myself. Avoiding questions is one of the principles of medical improv and this is exactly why it is so valuable! Oh and if you are a leader, you can help others develop their assertiveness by suggesting they reframe questions into statements! Oh the complexity of communication, it goes on and on!