• Cheryl Wu, MD

The Art of Asking Questions

Updated: Dec 9, 2019

In my professional and personal life, people come to me bearing questions and conundrums. And I’ve had the privilege to dispense opinion, advice and answers. Other doctors often ask me - how do you deal with all the anxious parents? I realized that physicians get frustrated with parents who often seem to ask the same question, but in 20 different ways; or with parents who seem to get one question answered, then think of another one immediately. Often, doctors may chalk it up to anxious parents. But in reality, there’s an underlying concern that the parent can’t quite put his or her finge

r on, and isn’t asking the right question.

I love listening to people’s stories, understanding their context, and helping them figure out what they’re actually worried about. If you think about it - a question is actually preceded by something the asker has identified as what he or she desires, or what he or she values. And if I listen close enough and ask the right questions, I can usually figure out what the deeper hidden query is and help reframe the question.

I’ll give you a great example. Parents often ask me if their child is gaining enough weight or growing tall enough. Most of the time the child is doing just fine - so a little bit of reassurance usually puts the parent’s mind at ease. But every once in a while, I get a parent who continues to be worried, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. So I will ask questions to ascertain context: I’ll ask if the parent had grown up on the smaller end of the growth chart and perhaps had been bullied; or maybe there is an aunt who had a medical condition, so the parent is nervous his child has the same affliction.

So in each of these scenarios, the underlying question is not "Is my child gaining weight ok?" But the true question is, “will my child be bullied?”; or “does my child have the same medical condition that impacted my sister when she was growing up?” I find often parents aren't fully conscious of the true answers they seek; but as I peel back the layers, it becomes more evident.

I will then look at the issue more closely with the parent. In the first case - we’ll end up talking about what to do if the child ever faces a bullying situation. I’ll break it down for the parent: so your fear is she will be bullied because she is small; but even if she were at the 50th percentile for weight and height, she can very well still be bullied. So the underlying question is what she should do if she is ever faced with a bully situation, whatever her size is. The beauty is the parent gains clarity about what he is worried about, we get to have an in-depth discussion about an issue such as bullying that would otherwise not have come up, and we demonstrate to the child how to approach a worry that might otherwise plague her parent (and really, the child herself).

So as you can see, I love answering questions! No question is too small, no question is stupid. Please submit questions you have below. Because as you learned above - you can learn more about yourself by thinking about the questions you are asking. Tata for now!

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