Communication Verbal Nonverbal - Smart Questioning

by Diane M. Hoffmann, ph.d./th.

The word 'Smart' is the key word here. Many factors come between the brain and the tongue: feelings, emotions, personalities, moods, ability to express, background, childhood development, etc., all these are predispositions of life's experiences and frames of references in both the Sender and the Receiver.

These are codes that open, or fail to open, the connecting gates which create the power of effective communication -- or inhibit it, depending on how our life's experiences have affected us. We either accept or reject our partner(s)' communication(s) on this basis.

The Receiver must be prepared to receive communication in its coarseness as well as in its "fineness", according to the various situations. That's the contextual part of communication. The contextual part is the current situation/location surrounding the communication at the time of being exchanged.

(Please keep in mind that in communication, the roles of the Sender and the Receiver change alternatively. As the dialogue takes place, the Sender becomes the Receiver when the response from the Receiver comes back. The Receiver becomes the Sender when he/she sends the response to the Sender. But the one who begins or initiates a conversation or communication is the original Sender.)

Sometimes there is a context that is not known to the other. If, for example, I show a group of people the picture of a rat and we talk about it for a while, then I show another group of people the picture of an old man’s face and talk about that for a while. I can display a picture that could be read as either a rat or an old man’s face to both groups, and the group that was predisposed to the rat will see the rat in the picture; the group that was predisposed to the old man’s face will see the old man's face in the picture. This is ambiguous perception.

In the same way, communication is affected by our predispositions. If the predisposition to a subject matter is good it will enhance connections and mental references; if it is bad, it will impede it. Being aware of such possible interferences prepares the communicators on both sides to act productively. All communications take place within a specific context. Awareness is imperative to successful contextual communication.

An example of predispositions is a new and excited sales individual discussing the company with an older, disillusioned member who knows the company is in trouble.

The older staff member tries to give warning about the particular company’s financial situation by pointing out that after three years in business the company is still at the same level of sales. The new member’s excited response is that this presents “a great opportunity to grow with the company” (ambiguous concept of hope and excitement about the new job -- lacking the facts). The contextual part (only known to the older staff member at this point) is that the company is in financial trouble and on its way into receivership, however, he couldn't come out and say that. The new member has no idea and sees no obstruction to optimism; the older member knows there is no opportunity.

Rather than being blinded by false hope and excitement, the new employee should pick up between the lines and bring the actual context into focus by using the “Smart Questioning” tool to find out what the sender is really trying to warn him of, and glean some important knowledge about reality and valuable ammunition for future sales developments and expectations.

Another example: if a group of people in the company cafeteria discusses the activities of a distant war, one individual in the group, who might have come from a war-torn country where death and pain touched close family members, may not take it so casually and react with a strong argumentative comment, “What do you know about war?”.

The listeners could not have known the context surrounding this person. However, before the group jumps on the individual’s case for saying what he said, a few strategic (Smart Questioning) will bring that context into focus and explain the unexpected outburst, giving understanding to the group -- "seeking first to understand, then to be understood".

The Sender must always be aware of a possible surrounding context or environment on the Receiver's side, and the Receiver must always be aware of a possible surrounding context or environment on the Sender's side. If a reaction is outside of the known actual context, either side can find out through Feedback and Understanding whether there is a legitimate situation or a misunderstanding on someone's part.

Some people are afraid of questioning because of fear to appear as intrusive. However “Smart Questioning” is good for better communication. You just need to question within the context and not throw any unrelated questions. Stay within the context of the immediate conversation and situation in a direct and caring manner./dmh

Article Copyright(c)Diane M. Hoffmann. You may print this article making sure to include the following bio without any changes.

Diane M. Hoffmann is the founder of Hoffmann-Rondeau Communications and author of the 296-page printed book "Contextual Communication, Organization and Training". Diane also provides a 2-part e-book version of her printed book, "Improve Communication, Verbal and Nonverbal" and "Improve Communication, Organization and Training" as well as many free articles which can be seen at her blog at

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