My most memorable professor, when I was in grad school many years ago, specialized in the domain of group dynamics. In addition to teaching, research and extensive writing, he worked with a variety of therapeutic groups and executive teams. He had a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field, as well as being wise in a way that could simultaneously feel engaging, challenging, growth enhancing and irritating.
Let me explain. The group dynamics course had a seminar style structure with professor and students sitting around a small conference table. Whenever someone would ask a question about the theoretical material or the current case-study, he would pause for a few moments and then break the tension-filled silence with the following statement: “I’m wondering what the real question behind that question is.” At the beginning of the course, most of us thought that he was being more than a bit odd and wondered why he didn’t just answer the question that was asked.
The class soon learned to appreciate the wisdom in our professor’s approach. We also came to recognize there was almost always a critical unasked question that needed to be addressed far below the surface of the original question. Under our professor’s support and strategic guidance, we were able to arrive at the level of the real question. The learning from this course has subsequently blossomed in ways that I couldn’t have imagined at the time, serving me well in both the personal and professional realms. Lessons learned from the group dynamics course have also empowered me to encounter a comment or question at the level it is presented and then organically and respectfully guide the conversation to a deeper level – the level of the real question.
What are some of the real questions in your life that might be hiding under the cover of a surface question?