Questions Offering Clarity to Your Dialogue

2020 Questions “From the Heart” Series

When moving through a conversation with someone, each person may be earnestly assessing the direction you want the dialogue to go. Yet, many conversations are muddled when the dialogue focuses on our own agenda and narrow mindset. The hope is the conversation, no matter how difficult, will give us the opportunity to genuinely listen, assess more deeply beyond our biases, and seek to clarify what is really going on inside us.

That is when Clarification questions often arise. Clarification may refer to a variety of terms, such as resolve, formulate, simplify, analyze, interpret, define, delineate, elucidate, settle, illuminate, illustrate, rarefy, distill, filter, refine, clean, cleanse, and depurate. For those who wonder what depurate means, it is a verb “to make or become free from impurities.”

The term reaches into a variety of venues, such as journalism, purifying broths when cooking, clarified butter, stabilizing wine, water treatment, even the status of Catholics becoming Freemasons. Removing certain “impurities” from the dialogue depends on the topic at hand needing clarification.

From a variety of etymological sources, the word, Clarification, goes back to the 12th century Old French clarifiier, meaning “to clarify, make clear, explain.” The Old French meaning comes from the Latin clarificare “to glorify, literally to make clear.” Those terms originate from the Latin clarificus, “brilliant,” from clarus “clear, distinct”, and combining a form of facere “to make, to do”. From the 15th century on Clarification meaning included “to purify, be free from obscurity, render intelligible, and grow.”

So, it seems when we ask clarifying questions, we are attempting to not only make clear what we each mean but also offer respect and admiration for each other’s brilliant and creative contribution to the dialogue. We begin to purify our motives, make things understandable, and grow together. Do your clarifying questions, particularly on more difficult topics, demonstrate that kind of dialogue?
Here are a few examples of clarifying questions often used in a conversation.

  • What do you mean?
  • What does it feel like?
  • How does it seem to confuse you?
  • What else to you want to say about that?
  • What do you want?
  • How did this topic/problem first arise?
  • What examples can you give me?

As you move through each question, take stock of your motives for asking those questions. Watch out for the temptation to slip into a modified combative tone with “What do you mean by that?” or “What do you want anyway?” Be aware of your body language and tone with each question and the other words you slip into the question. Asking any questions involve the whole person.

This is particularly true if you are having a bad day that may set you off. The person in front of you may get the brunt of your mood by virtue of the tone and attitude showing up on your face and body. So, maybe that is the moment or day to take a “pause.” Simply own your “bad day mood” for what it is. Then, how about asking yourself these Clarification questions to help you move beyond the mood? You will then be ready for the next level with Evaluation questions covered in the next article.