Be Careful What You Ask!

By Paula Marolewski, August 30, 2009 6:14 pm

Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” And that’s true even about the questions we ask.

Too many times, people ask questions thoughtlessly – unaware of the damage the very question they are asking can cause to the listener. Questions like:

  • “So, when are we going to throw a baby shower for you?”
  • “You’re such a nice person – why haven’t you married?”
  • “Your boss is really unfair. Why don’t you get a new job?”

Questions like these are hurtful for two reasons. First, the questioner is making an assumption about the other person’s desires. In the above examples, the questioner is making the assumption that the other person wants children, wants to be married, or wants to get a new job. It is entirely possible that the person doesn’t want children, or doesn’t want children now; that they are perfectly happy being single; or that despite their boss, they really enjoy what they do. In that case, questions like the above put the person on the defensive – they feel that they have to explain or justify their current position to the questioner.

Second, the questioner is making an assumption about the other person’s actions. For instance, the person may have tried every infertility process available and still can’t conceive, or they might have longed for marriage all their life and feel horribly lonely because the right person has never come their way; or they may be sending out dozens of resumes every month but haven’t had so much as a nibble in the way of a job interview. In that case, these kind of questions make the person feel depressed at best and inferior at worst – depressed, because the questions are like pouring salt in an open wound, and inferior because they may feel that their best hasn’t been good enough, so maybe they themselves aren’t good enough, either.

If your relationship with someone gives you the right to ask a question of a personal nature such as those above, then be sure to ask that question in a gentle and respectful fashion. For instance, you may first want to verify what the other person’s desires are on the topic, i.e., “You seem very happy being single, but I’ve always wondered – do you or did you ever wish to get married?”

Based upon the person’s answer, it may then be appropriate to ask a question about their actions with regard to the issue, i.e., “I’m sorry that your boss is so unpleasant that you want to move on. Have you taken any steps toward that end yet? Is there anything I can do to help you search for a new position?”

Remember, “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Be careful what you ask. The smallest question can harm or heal.


© 2009 Paula Marolewski,

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