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10 Suggestions for Leading Discussions: Number Five

Peel the Onion with Questions.

Have you ever peeled an onion? You probably cried while you did. The point of this suggestion is NOT to make your group members cry with the questions you ask.

As you peel each layer of an onion, you discover that another layer can be peeled off until you get to the very heart of the onion. People are like onions. Typically, when asked a personal questions, the first answer they give will not fully reflect their heart. Likely, it will be an answer that barely scratches the surface of who they are. That answer needs to be peeled by asking another question.

Asking follow-up questions is a learned skill. The more you practice, the better you will become at peeling people's onions. Begin by committing yourself to the habit of always asking at least one follow-up question. If you have no idea what to ask, you can always restate the person's answer in your own words and ask them if that is what they are saying. More often than not, a person will respond by clarifying their own answer a little more.

Here are some other ideas to help you ask follow-up questions:
  • Three topics people usually like to talk about are their experiences, their opinions, and their expectations. Try to craft questions designed to unpack these concepts.
  • Choose one word or phrase in the person's first answer, and ask them to explain it a little more.
  • Ask if they can give an example of their answer.
  • Play "devil's advocate" by asking a "What if...?" question.
Check out the following examples to see how you might put these ideas to use:

Driver: Bob, How do you feel about Jesus' answer to the pharisees in this passage?
Bob: I think maybe he was a little too harsh on them.
Driver: Hmm. In your experience, are their times when it is okay to be "harsh" or is it always wrong?

Driver: Bob, How do you feel about Jesus' answer to the pharisees in this passage?
Bob: I think maybe he was a little too harsh on them.
Driver: Okay. Explain to us what you mean by "harsh".

Driver: Bob, How do you feel about Jesus' answer to the pharisees in this passage?
Bob: I think maybe he was a little too harsh on them.
Driver: Oh. Do you think you could give us an example of how Jesus might have been less harsh?

Driver: Bob, How do you feel about Jesus' answer to the pharisees in this passage?
Bob: I think maybe he was a little too harsh on them.
Driver: Hmm. Well, what if Jesus had been less harsh? Do you think his message would have gotten through?

You can see that each of these examples will move the discussion along and give Bob a chance to dig a little deeper into his opinion, perhaps helping him to consider if maybe he has a wrong view of Jesus.

Remember, peeling the onion isn't always easy, but the more you do it, the easier it will be. Use the tips and examples above at first to get you going, and as you develop your skills you'll find you'll develop your own style of "peeling the onion".

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