The Mediation Times


On the value of curiosity…

by Amanda on June 4, 2008

Curiosity – the oracle for mediators.

Asking the ‘oracle’ is an ancient human practice. The ambiguous nature of answers received has been the defence of sceptics for just as long. Hocus pocus! They cry. And history reveals that the ancient Roman and Greek oracles were skillfully manipulated for political reasons and used to control the populous. So there we have it: ancient spin doctors! No wonder there are cynics!

However, asking an oracle works for many and many mediators might sometimes feel they are regarded as the oracle! What is interesting is that it doesn’t really matter which one you chose, the tarot, I Ching, whatever, the instructions are just the same: You must be clear about the question you want to ask because it affects the quality of the information you get back. And you must pay attention to your intentions.

This is powerful and sometimes very challenging stuff. To frame a question clearly you need to know what is at stake, understand what it is you want and most of all you must want to hear the answer. The strange thing about the answers from any oracle is that they usually send you off on another quest(ion) or a review of values, beliefs and assumptions which can be very irritating for those for whom the destination and ‘knowing’ and ‘certainty’ is what matters most. Being curious for some is an irrelevant diversion to the decision making process: they want to get to the end point fast.

The wonderful thing about the English language is that it is a living language which changes all the time to reflect the popular usage. Along the way the definition of curiosity has changed from its original meaning. We think of curiosity as a childish thing with a sense of prying or snooping when in fact it comes from Old French curioseté and Latin curiositas meaning a personal attribute of carefulness, scrupulousness, fastidiousness, skill, cleverness and discernment. These are not bad attributes for a mediator!

There are basically 4 types of question: rhetorical, closed, open and filtering, which is a group that approaches the information already given in different ways. They might challenge, focus or seek to clarify.

Rhetorical questions (statement with a question mark at the end) are more about personal style and sometimes humour – very useful in mediation! Closed questions (yes or no) must be skillfully used otherwise they simply close down the flow of information which can be good when you want a decision or confirmation (and you are ready for that). Open and filtering questions are the stuff of information gathering.

If you want to test out what I am saying then spend a little time just listening to the way people ask you questions. As you listen to their questions, ask yourself:

  • Do they really want to know the answer?
  • Are they validating assumptions or do they want more information?
  • Do I feel maneuvered or manifulated?
  • Do they want a specific answer?
  • Do I feel that they are interested in learning something new?
  • Are they really interested and how does that make me feel?

Be aware of the responses you get and aware of how you answer the question.

If you don’t know the answer yet, just live the question.


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