When I wake up in the morning, pick up my phone from my bedside, and look at the news, it's easy to think we live in the most divisive age yet. And the reality is, divisiveness has encompassed humanity since the moment evil entered the world. (See "the Garden of Eden" for reference.) In fact, divisiveness is an integral part of who we are. God calls us to stand against evil and choose the side of grace and truth. But when it comes to how we approach each other, it's not that black and white, although we like to pretend it is. We all sin, and we all have hope because of Jesus. Often, the things that divide us aren't even issues of right and wrong but matters of unfamiliarity or insecurity. Sometimes it's not people that prompt our tension but uncomfortable circumstances that cause us to put up our guards. So how can we step forward in situations when we don't know what to say? Or what about when we know what we want to say, but we know those words are harmful?
I'm not one of those people who "always knows what to say," so I've thought about this a lot. And I've come to the conclusion that questions are usually the way to go. Genuine questions don't pose judgment, and they don't require us to have the answers. Questions open doors and motivate us to think outside of ourselves. Questions can help us to pause and evaluate our direction amid awkward or conflictual conversations. Now the next predicament is, what questions should we ask? Of course, that varies depending on the people and scenarios involved. Yet, there are some starting points we can apply to many situations. You might think a lot of these questions are common sense and don't require memorizing, but we need to have the intention to build habits for the "heat of the moment." If you think these are helpful to keep in mind, I encourage you to print them out or write them down.
Here you go:
What did I say that stood out to you, good or bad?
This is an excellent question for a personal or professional "get to know you" conversation or for a debate-based discussion. It's much easier to pinpoint interest and misunderstanding when we ask for specifics.
What topics do you want to explore?
You can word this with more articulation to fit the circumstances. Whether you're on a first date or working through an issue with someone familiar, it can make a huge difference to outline what you both want to achieve through the conversation.
Are you willing to hear my perspective?
I think this question has the potential to prevent a lot of hostility in the face of controversy. It gives each party in the conversation the cue to choose whether to continue openly or simply part ways. It's also a good idea to ask this question when someone shares a burden and you aren't sure if they want advice.
How has this personally impacted you?
A certain amount of delicacy is required with this question to keep it from coming off as a "you don't really know about this topic" accusation. Inquiring with sincerity is the best way to learn more about different perspectives and also gain tangible clarity for your own views.
How can I be most helpful right now?
The question, "How can I help?" seems to come with pressure, both on the asking and answering side. I know I've felt awkward on both ends. Sometimes "helping" is not helpful, but the receiver feels obligated to accept the offer. Or maybe the receiver isn't honest about what is helpful because they think the giver is only asking out of politeness. This more precise version of the question shows genuine interest and is more open to the option that doing nothing could be most helpful.
How do you think God is using you right now?
Okay, this just got deep. But really, you can ask this in a light-hearted context as well as a "soul searching" one. It doesn't have to be about the big steps; you can use this question to share ordinary-day insights.
When did you first realize that?
In our digital world, we often throw around "definitive" statements that are based on someone else's "definitive" statements. And when we receive statements we aren't familiar with, it's hard to respond when we don't understand the source. Whether we agree or disagree, we can engage better when we know where ideas stem from.
What is something you'd like to know about me?
This question is probably on most "What to ask on a first date" lists, and I think it's important to remember. It's one of the best conversation starters, and you can follow up by asking the other person a relevant question about themselves. You can also use this question to expand engagement during tense conversations with people in your circle.
How can I connect with you?
Here's one that definitely leaves room for modification. However you want to say it, the point is that connection is the endgame. With family, friends, and strangers, our interactions have a purpose when we share God's love. Sometimes we focus so much on what we want from our time that we miss the opportunities to reach others where they are. In those moments, all it can take is a question to find out how to walk with someone, when we can’t walk in their shoes.
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.