One of my favorite “breakthrough” concepts from the book Restoring Civility is the concept of interrogative influence. It is the brilliant use of questions rather than barking orders to help your friends, relatives, coworkers, and your children—anyone—grow in civility. It works a whole lot better than lecturing people!
In a lecture, people learn facts. However, using questions helps to engage people to become part of the learning experience. Since respect—civility—is more caught than taught, this learning experience about interrogative influence is precious.
Interrogative influence is not new with me. In fact, one of the masters of interrogative influence is the Master, Jesus. By asking questions, He led His followers into a deeper level of experience. They caught the movement He started.
When you think about it, it seems surprising that so many pastors focus so much on preaching in a form that is a download of religion directed to people. Their Leader, Jesus, engaged at a different level.
If you want people to catch the ethos of civility, use stories. Stories create pictures. Good stories allow others to put themselves in the story. Instead of just saying, “I understand” (the academic level), they say, “I see.” They join the story. Civility is caught!
One of the early Christians, St. Augustine, was asked by someone, “What was God doing before He created the universe?” Augustine responded, “He was busy creating Hell for people who are too curious for such matters!”
Interrogative influence is the fine art of asking good questions. Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” He could have just lectured the disciples, “Look, I want to make sure you guys get it. You need to be clear about who I am. I am the Christ…the Son of the living God. And don’t you forget it!”
Instead, Jesus led them into engagement with that question, “Who do people say I am?” Well the disciples had heard a lot of gossip and chatter in the marketplace. There were all kinds of things people were saying about who Jesus really was. So they told Him several examples of what they heard from others.
Do you know what is interesting? This question Jesus asked wasn’t even the real question He wanted them to answer! He was gently leading them into the real question. He was putting them into a frame of mind. This is the power of interrogative influence!
Jesus got to the real question, once he had the disciples in the right frame of mind. He said, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You’re the Christ…the Son of the Living God.”
In that moment, Jesus discovered what He really wanted to know: 1) They get it; 2) They were ready for His departure. Interrogative influence is the concept of asking questions rather than telling people what you want them to hear.
Civility issues are supercharged with emotion…in case you haven’t noticed! Consider issues like gay marriage, right to life for the unborn, or think about many issues between Republicans and Democrats, or the issue of gun control or immigration. Our nation is loaded with sensitive and volatile issues. But there are always sensitive issues—such is life! The real issue is: How do you approach it? Do you have a civilized approach?
Many of these issues we face today are really about civility. That’s why they are so sensitive. They require high levels of respect. However, so many people jump to a position that is judgmental or critical. This produces a lot of heat, but not much light.
So, ask questions, be one who is an active listener, with a loving, open mind and a civil heart. That’s the way that we, as people, can grow beyond disrespect.
Civility is possible!