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The art of listening is a difficult one.  We often don’t listen well, because we usually prepare for the next thing that is going to come out of our mouth.

Asking good questions is a sub-set of listening well.  To ask a good question you first much listen completely to what the other person is telling you.  Then, you can form a good question that helps move your knowledge forward.

Nowhere was this more important than in my cancer treatment.  Learning to completely listen before asking a question was important during my cancer treatment.  Not only did I have to learn to completely listen, I had to learn to completely listen to the answer so I could ask a good follow up question.

I find new information especially difficult to integrate into my knowledge base.  When I was receiving information about options or what was likely to happen I always had to ask questions about my questions.  Often, the questions about questions would run four or five deep before I understood what was being told to me.

You must be dumb to learn well.  Understanding what someone else is telling you is difficult work.  One of the reasons it’s difficult is because we must become dumb if we’re going to learn well.

Being dumb means that we have to be willing to look foolish in the other person’s eyes.  Understanding is often a process of peeling away an onion.  First, we hear about the general issue.  Our first question provides more information; the second one allows us to drill in a little deeper.  By the time we get to our fourth or fifth question we might have enough information to make an informed decision.

Having a deep understanding is especially important in cancer treatment.  Truly understanding what was likely to happen and what my options were was a result of asking questions about questions. 

Like many professionals, my doctors would often use jargon or in their words medical terms to explain what they were talking about.  I had to ask what the medical terms meant if I was to make an informed decision.  It was through asking good questions that I finally learned enough that allowed me to make an informed decision about what was my best option.

If I didn’t know what I could do and why it might make sense there was no use going forward.  The only way I could figure this out was by being dumb and asking lots of questions.

How about you, do you believe allowing yourself to show that you don’t understand is important?  My lesson from cancer is that if I didn’t do this, I would have cheated myself.

Josh Patrick

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Topics: communication, business relationship management, communication skills, lessons learned, collaboration

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