I have found many ways to use the power of focusing attention through the writing process. Writing focuses your attention, sharpens and directs your thinking process, and clarifies situations. Written and well-thought-out questions often contain the answer, or answer themselves. I have used writing to focus my own attention, suggested written exercises for clients, and calmed and energized groups.
Writing Questions to Focus on The Job
During the first week of my first job following college, my supervisor told me to write down all my questions in preparation for talking the next day. While I know that she was motivated by finding a way to not be bothered with questions all day long from new employees, I have benefitted more from this suggestion than she did. I have come to consider the act of writing down a question to be a brilliant method for focusing attention that I have carried forward in many situations.
In that job in those first few weeks, I had many questions I did not even know how to ask articulately. As I wrote down each topic or question, I let go of some of the frustration that I did not know the answer. It was now on the list. I could move forward.
Another important dynamic happened: I usually answered by own questions! Sometimes I did not answer my original questions fully, but my questions became sharper, deeper, or more insightful. Usually, I formulated a better question as I continued until the time I could ask my supervisor. Occasionally, I checked with my supervisor to be certain that I had answered my own questions properly, which I realize now, with a view of greater and more mature understanding, was a positive demonstration of my thinking process.
Writing Questions to Focus a Group
A remarkable incident occurred when I was a trainer at a state agency conference with over 200 participants from all across the state. An announcement was made by the previous speaker that upset the group. The speaker offered no resolution, no soothing, no suggestions, no insights. It was a verbal bomb.
Fortunately, a scheduled break came between the bomb-announcement and my presentation. This allowed me time to assess the situation a little more fully by wandering the crowd. I wanted to identify a process that would help the group to transition into my presentation. Everyone who “advised” me during the break suggested that I say nothing about the previous talk. Say nothing? In my view, that seemed too disrespectful. I could not do that. Of course, I had nothing I could say about the subject itself, but I could offer a process to acknowledge the incident.
After my introduction, I started by asking them to each tear a piece of paper from their three-ring binders. Rip, shuffle, snap, slam. Then I instructed them to write one or more questions on the piece of paper that they wanted answered. I gave examples like, write a question to ask someone before the end of the conference or to ask someone when they returned to their office, or any other action they might consider taking when they returned home, related to the announcement.
The turmoil slowed down. I noticed, even though most were writing, that the room of over 200 persons had created that dynamic of silence we often refer to as “being able to hear a pin drop.” When most seemed finished with the assignment, I suggested they fold the paper and put it in their pocket or purse or into the pocket of their training folder.
In three minutes, I used a process that calmed a group of distraught individuals. I had no solution, no promises, no information about the announcement. What I did have was their attention. They would have followed me anywhere. More important, though, they were empowered. I used the power of focusing their attention through writing something that was important to them.
Writing Your Questions for Empowerment
How can you use writing to focus your attention? If you are already successfully using writing to clarify your thoughts, how can you enhance the process for yourself? There are many ways you can use questions to elicit empowering answers, here is one approach:
1. Identify the subject. Keep it simple.
2. Consider what you want to know about the subject to propel you forward. Notice the suggested direction (forward, not backward).
3. Formulate several questions. You might consider the questions are preliminary, possible, feasible, or brilliant.
4. Put the answering on hold. The hold time may be an hour or so while you do something else or overnight.
5. Look ar your written questions and let the answers flow. If it helps to let the answers flow more easily, pretend that these are someone else’s questions rather than yours.
While you may think that the answer is all important, consider that sometimes it is the question that is all important. The key is to match up the question and answer for empowerment. “Yes” can be an empowering answer, but what is the question?