Asking the Right Questions the Right Way

Today while walking about the grounds of a Zen monastery in Kyoto a forthright junior high school girl accompanied by four girls and four boys conducted an impromptu interview. The questions were fulfilling the requirements of a school assignment. The students were from a school near Tokyo, so they were on a major excursion, the sort of field trips that schools often arrange in the final weeks of the school term as the weather improves and the cultural sites open.

In fact, one can develop a distorted view of Japanese demographics when attending cultural sites this time of year. Despite the its reputation for having the oldest population on earth, Japan’s cultural sites are thickly populated by students of various ages in their range of uniforms that range from frumpy to stylish reflecting school officials’ aesthetic judgements, the logic of which escape this writer.

So, my interviewer initiated the conversation and continued the questions throughout with only a few asides for advice from her fellow students through the process. I suspect that her lead position reflected qualities of personal initiative as well as a respectable proficiency in English.

The structured interview began with well-chosen questions that established the rationale for the exercise:

    1. Do you speak English? Yes

    2. What’s your name? Michael

    3. Where are you from? Canada

    4. What is your favorite food? Tempura

    5. What is your favorite Sport? Basketball

The latter prompted reference to my height (6’2”) and to Michael Jordan. The interview then shifted into dialogue with me asking more questions than she.

The conversation was a high point of a fine day. It is pleasant for people to show an interest. Adding to the pleasure was the context.

Some communications have a defined objective: obtain answers to specific questions, share specific facts, and maintain a tight schedule while doing all this. But to make a genuine contribution to someone’s day, it is important to stretch the boundaries a bit to assure that genuine contact occurs.

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