Fourteen years ago, I graduated college and moved to a small, rural village in Burkina Faso, West Africa as a community health Peace Corps Volunteer. Thus began my quite accidental career in the learning and development profession. Little did I know at the time, but I would also be forging relationships that would endure time and space across oceans.
My daily routine for those two years consisted of a mix of the following: reading books, swatting mosquitos, attempting to carry water on my head and do laundry by hand, exploring the area with my dog Daisy, stumbling my way through facilitating workshops in foreign languages and cultures, and learning how to appreciate the joys of village living from a cool seven year old kid named Jonas.
Flash forward to 2015 and my summer and autumn found me—like so many other Vermont parents—doing the college visit circuit. An exciting rite of passage to begin with, I especially cherished this experience as I was accompanying Jonas—now an even cooler young man of 20!
Now maybe it was because I was especially attuned to the cultural differences, or that I was translating portions of the presentations into French. But more than likely it was due to my INTP tendencies to analyze and critique, and the professional hazard that causes many of us to simultaneously redesign any presentation we attend. In any case, one thing became very obvious to me after four college visits and their accompanying “education sessions”. And that is this: one simple question can make all the difference. Allow me to explain.
Imagine you’re a high school student, wondering what your life holds for you next year. You’re in the midst of sorting through some big decisions. (You know the kind—the Where will I live? What should I become?, How will I do my laundry? variety…) Or maybe you’re a parent anxiously attempting to comprehend the impacts of such a large investment. Schools know this about their target audience and roll out the red carpet in their attempts to make people feel welcomed, comfortable, and part of a community. This includes small tour groups, one-on-one interactions with professors, dining with admissions and financial aid directors, and dorm room overnight visits.
It’s a laudable effort and yet, without fail, the end of these sometimes multi-day productions go something like this:
[2 second pause filled with awkward collective silence.]
Great! We hope to see you around campus next fall!
The closed-question mic drop moment. Unintentional consequences include the bursting of the welcoming bubble that everyone was just getting so cozy in. What difference might it make for students and parents if an open-ended question were employed instead? One that authentically invited in questions and dialogue?
And taking this a step further, how might this one small tweak make in a difference in our work as learning and development professionals? Instead of “Any questions?” we might ask: