Monday, August 5, 2019

11 Questions that Build Relationships and Foster Connection


Earlier this summer our district leadership team spent a day of training together around the Clifton Strengths Assessment. It was really interesting to learn more about self and others and how to leverage our individual and collective strengths to make our impact for kids stronger.

Of my top five strengths, I was a little disappointed to learn that none of them fell into the larger category of Relationship Building. 

That's right, I often write about how much I value relationships and how important they are, but connecting is not a natural strength for meat least not in my top 5 according to this instrument. 

Our trainer was really helpful in explaining that just because something isn't a natural strength doesn't mean you're not good at it, or that you don't find value in it. It just requires more effort and intention to be good at it. When you believe strongly in something, you can be effective in it even when it's not near the top of your strengths.

That was encouraging to me. 

My top 5 strengths were 1. Learner, 2. Activator, 3. Belief, 4. Futuristic (sounds like a familiar book title), and 5. Self-Assurance. These are all areas where I get energy, where I thrive.

But I also realize that relationships are the most important part of what I do. I can't be effective as an educator or as a human being for that matter, unless relationships are my number one priority. So I will remain intentional about how I strive to connect with others.

I've noticed sometimes when I interact with students I feel like I'm saying the same things over and over. Just simply exchanging pleasantries, smiling, nodding, fist-bumping, etc. And then maybe I'll ask about last night's game or how their classes are going.

I've also noticed that while we often talk about how important relationships are in education, we don't always share specific strategies for how to build relationships and connect in the middle of all those interactions we have every day. 

But I read an article recently about a study by psychologist Arthur Aron that described how certain questions have proven to build connection between people. And while the questions were designed to be used in a single 45 minute conversation, I'm wondering about how some of these questions might be helpful to me in working with students or colleagues, perhaps in shorter time frames. 

Some of the questions seemed more fitting than others. I thought I would share a few here in case you're like me and looking for ways to make your conversations more meaningful. The questions were divided into sets based on the level of vulnerability they might require.

I think they might even be good for staff meetings to build more connection and teamwork among teachers. When we share together we grow stronger together.

Set 1

1. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

2. What would constitute a "perfect" day for you?

3. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

4. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set 2

5. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

6. What do you value most in a friendship?

7. What is your most treasured memory?

8. Is there something you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?

Set 3

9. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

10. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

11. Make three true "we" statements each. For instance, "We are both in this room feeling..."

There were actually 36 questions total. I'm just sharing a few of the ones that seemed most likely that I might use. I would definitely be uncomfortable asking students, or even colleagues, a few of the questions that were included in the larger group, especially from Set 3. 

You might want to check out the full list of 36 questions and the protocol for the entire activity. You might find some other questions you like for your classroom or school. Or, you might want to try the entire process for date night with your significant other. Enjoy!

What are other questions or topics you rely on to foster connection? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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