The Power of Questions – The Value of Purpose

Lessons From A Stop Sign

“What in the world?  What have you got there, Cora?”  “Hi, Dad! Look! I have a stop sign for my room!”

At sixteen, for some reason, having a traffic sign in one’s room was deemed “cool.” Trying to explain to a parent why was an effort in futility. However, for this sixteen year-old, the parent chose to capitalize on the act as yet another profound learning event. As I continued on my way back to my bedroom to find a place for my new found treasure, my father stayed in place to gather his thoughts and find the perfect treasure in his mind; the questions that would align with his purpose as a parent. This included providing his child competent decision-making skills that involved the consideration of cause and effect, compassion for others when considering choices and accountability to one’s actions. How could the stop sign take his child one step closer to having command of these skills?

“Cora, I am curious. Where did you find that stop sign?”  “Oh, it was hanging at the intersection of Dupey Valley Rd and Gopey Turnoff; it was loose so I was actually able to get it down!”

Having arrived in the bedroom to witness the transformation of an average room to a cool room by rules understood only by the group that adheres to them, my father participated in a conversation regarding the excitement of this little adventure of his child. As he prepared to leave he asked his final few questions. On the heels of the question regarding the original location of the treasure, the next question was like a punch to the gut.

“Have you thought about what might happen if someone were to go through that intersection and not stop, since there is no stop sign, while someone else going through also does not stop, since they expect other traffic to stop?” After a long pause and watching me process the impact of my actions, he goes on.  “I only ask this because I worry about you and how you might feel if next week you read in the paper there has been an awful accident at that intersection and people were hurt.”

As my father leaves my room, I gather not only my treasured stop sign, but also the hammer and nails I had intended to use on the wall, but for which I would now use to ensure that stop sign would hang far more secure than ever on its post at its home intersection.

As I raced back to the intersection, I was white-knuckled. So concerned something would happen between the time I had taken the sign and the time I could put it back.

As parents, leaders, educators and influencers, we have the opportunity to either tell or teach.  How would the outcome have been different had my father simply “told” me to put the sign back? In aligning with his one of his purposes as a parent-to develop a young person with solid decision-making skills- how does a compliance-driven approach accomplish this?

In communication, being clear on purpose and utilizing the power of effective questioning one can take the focus off what “we” want others to do, and place the focus on empowering and developing others. At the end of the day, which has more impact?

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