"One of the best gifts we can give each other: asking open ended, genuinely curious, and affirming questions." I posted this as my status on Facebook last week, and promised to write more on the topic soon.
Let's take each of the main clauses in my sentence in turn, and imagine questions which do and do not exemplify these characteristics.
1. Open ended: "How can we transform scholarly communication so that everyone wins?" (good) or "How can we crush the publishers and get everyone all aboard the open access train?" (not good)
2. Genuinely curious: "What motivated you to take that approach?" (good) or "Hmm--that won't pay well and you have an advanced degree. What are you thinking??" (not good)
3. Affirming: "How does this decision play to your strengths?" (good) or "Are you stupid? There's no way that will work!" (not good)
Those examples above are absurd on purpose, to pinpoint what I call the "blustery" style of questioning. Anytime we ask a loaded question that seeks to drive a conversation toward a pre-determined end, meaningful dialogue stops.
Work is one place where it is critically important to ask questions the right way. I believe most people come into a job willing to learn and support the team, and that the dysfunctional behaviors which often develop later are in response to questions asked poorly. One of my Facebook friends asked me to provide specific examples of conversations I've had which are open-ended, genuinely curious, and affirming. I immediately thought of work contexts, and realized I can only divulge so much without revealing details that are not necessarily public.
So, as a general matter, I've found that most colleagues are much more open and honest in 1:1 meetings than in large group meetings. In large groups it is tempting for people to argue their corner and abandon shared purpose. One of my growth areas as a manager was finding a way to harness the passion in large group settings before that passion curdled into unpleasantness. I was much more at ease in 1:1 meetings, in which it was easier for me to ask questions the right way.
Of course, an endless series of 1:1 meetings would not be sustainable. Large group meetings are necessary, both for efficiency's sake and to gather the expertise of multiple people in one place. It's not impossible to ask questions the right way in large groups--for me it is just more challenging.
Crucially, this does not mean never challenging another person. We all fall victim to muddled thinking at times, and we all benefit from understanding this. But claiming we're offering "tough love" or "holding their feet to the fire" are both self-serving justifications for being a bully. Truly tough love is graceful, and the best way to hold someone's feet to the fire is to ask questions the right way.