Leading and Caring for Children

Satisfying Conversations

Some kinds of conversations remain a satisfying memory for both participants.

Pushing Doesn’t Work

I hope you arrived here from the previous page having considered the differences between A and B conversations. Even though both adults asked questions, the questions were entirely different. Some were tutorial questions; some were queries. Tutorial questions are ones where the asker already knows the answer, which isn’t entirely bad. Also called maieutic questions — used in the Socratic Method — or discoverable tutorial questions, they are a skill to master in enabling others to think through and reconsider, which have value in deconstructing text or the analysis of experimental findings (see Best Practices in College Teaching) but not in satisfying conversations.

A good friend tells you of their misadventures with an outboard motor on a fishing trip. You ask, “How could you have done that differently? What indicators of trouble were there earlier?” These are questions I’m calling tutorials. Contrast this with the Conversation A and Conversation B examples. The adult in conversation B had no idea what the answers were to her questions. Her questions were authentic inquiries. I am calling these queries.

Both tutorials and queries have one thing in common: they are pushy. Whenever one asks a question the cultural implication is for the other person to answer. I ask you a question; you are supposed to answer. You have an obligation incurred.

Like the phone ringing, you’re supposed to pick up or open the text message and reply.

If you’re a child, smaller and less facile with the language, facing an obligation like this, you may be uncomfortable. You may not know how to answer, or the thoughts are too complex to formulate, or you simply don’t want to be bothered. You can choose to remain silent, but the phone continues to ring. The adult is still looking at you.

A demand is still there. The adults I see in the grocery or at the playground seem to habitually bombard children with questions and don’t stop — even when they see it doesn’t work. Around here, questioning is pretty much the norm. Usually my students are quite taken aback on hearing themselves do so much of this in a recording.

One aspect of conversations we can examine is the presence of demands, but there is lots more. Let’s go back a step and start at the beginning. Again, I invite you to actually do this and discuss this, because it is your brain and your transformation.

When conversations are the best

You have best friends, people you most enjoy talking to. If you had the chance right now to talk to anyone you know, who would it be? I invite you to think of one or two or three people you most enjoy talking to and write down their names. Who would you most enjoy talking with right now on the phone in a comfy chair with your feet up?


List the reasons why you enjoy these conversations so much. What is it that they do to you? What is it that you do to them?

  • they do _______
  • we do _______
  • I do _______

What kinds of things do you usually talk about?

I invite you to describe your experiences in these conversations to two or three others and listen to what they say. After those conversations, you’ll be ready for the next page.

Next Mutually Enriching Conversation