Don’s Diary – (a busy month and a second page)

Asking questions, together with other skills such as giving orders, supervision, encouragement and thanks are essential in the tool box of every Worshipful Master and leader.

Questions are necessary to determine or confirm the situation and enable corrective action to be taken. Unfortunately questions can be used by a superior to attempt to bully, confuse or intimidate a subordinate. They may, for their own ego, hope that the subordinate will feel it necessary to “suck”, un-Australian in my day and something that I never learned but our demography and culture has changed significantly in my lifetime. What most people in power do not recognise is that their question will usually reveal much more about them than the information that they will get from the respondent.

Every student and those familiar with interviews will be familiar with open and closed type of questions. The open type questions of “how, who, what when, why, where, describe, explain” and so on are to encourage an expansive response and to probe beneath the surface. Unless they are overdone in an interview turning the situation into an interrogation, an unfavourable opinion of the questioner is likely to be formed. Asked properly in the appropriate circumstances they will be regarded to be legitimate and the questioner untarnished.

Similarly, students and interviewees will recognise closed questions that are framed to elicit yes/no answers. A questioner who does not accept a straight yes/no answer when it is appropriate again will be judged narrow thinking to ask such a question or an inflexible tyrant for resisting the answer.

I could go on: hypothetical questions where the questioner may be judged to be setting a trap; rhetorical questions such as “Is the Grand Master a Freemason?” where an answer is not expected and the questioner just wants to make a comment on which he will be judged. There are also the heavily prefaced questions, which could be judged as an attempt by the questioner to confuse the interviewee, or the questioner is too lazy or incompetent to frame an appropriate question.

The worst type of question is the “Are you really going to eat that?” type: it is really an allegation and not a genuine question. It may be “Do you intend to be team player next year”, making an unsubstantiated allegation that is not a team player. It should not happen in freemasonry where we are instructed to meet on the level and depart on the square. No doubt you will form a judgment about the questioner’s team building skills and his supervision and coaching capability. It will raise the issue of the quality of management and leadership acumen. A far better way to critique a subordinate is to put the comment in the first person and say “I would rather you did <xxxx>” next year or “I would like your emphasis next year to be <zzzz>”. Or, “Have you thought about or considered <suggestion>?”.. Then say “I would like to know what you think about it and to possibly to discuss the issue”. The allegation type question is an ambush and good manners usually preclude the response it deserves. You are unlikely to hear it put in the robust environments of a football clubroom or in a pub at closing time!

Some should remember the adage: do I stay silent and let everyone think that I am a fool or do I ask a question and show that I am.

Yours fraternally

Don Paterson