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Tips on How to Respond to Questions to Promote Acceptance

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And, Yes. We Can Pose Better Questions!

Yesterday marked a special occasion as I took my mother out to celebrate her birthday. She shared that her primary doctor had recently retired, leading to a referral to a new physician. During her initial visit, she was handed an iPad to fill out her information. Being unfamiliar with the technology and struggling with the small screen, she sought assistance. The nurse responded with, “Why? You don’t have doctors where you come from?”

The absurdity of the situation struck me so unexpectedly that I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Tears streamed down my face, and my mother found herself joining in the laughter, seeing my reaction. In an instant, her moods shifted, and the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) came to mind. It’s remarkable that despite the significant emphasis placed on these issues today, there are still professionals who unintentionally reveal their lack of knowledge or negative opinions through their choice of words.

I don’t believe the nurse meant any harm or fully realized the impact her response had on my mother. However, this situation serves as a reminder of the importance of developing effective cross-cultural communication skills that we can adapt in working with our students, their families and colleagues Here are some tips to respond to questions and promote a culture of acceptance and belonging:

1.    avoid answering a question with a question, unless it is intended to seek clarification. Clear and direct responses promote understanding.

2.    use “I” messages instead of “You.” This approach fosters a universally kinder and more inclusive tone.

3.    reflect if the question would be acceptable if it were directed at us.

4.    take the time to fully understand the message being conveyed.

5.    avoid making assumptions or generalizations based on stereotypes. Treat each individual as unique and deserving of understanding on their own terms.

6.    avoid guessing based solely on cultural background.

During my Improv training, I discovered a powerful technique called the “Yes, and” approach. This method enables the building of connections with anyone, whether they are asking questions or hesitantly proposing ideas. By responding with a positive affirmation and adding one’s own contribution, a collaborative atmosphere of acceptance and support is created. For example, when a student asked if we could have food in class, my response was, “Yes, and we can ask for permission from the school.”  I asked and was denied because of CoViD. The students suggested we go outside and that worked. In the case of my mother’s experience, a suitable response would be, “Yes, and how may I help?” This simple phrase encourages others to share their thoughts and ideas, promoting collaboration and a sense of togetherness in achieving a common goal.

In my role as a mentor and educator working with students from around the world, both in-person and virtually, I have witnessed the positive impact of the “Yes, and” approach. By embracing this technique, participants gain confidence in suggesting ideas, knowing that their input will be valued.

It truly is that easy to avoid passing judgment while acknowledging and appreciating someone else’s perspective, fostering inclusivity, and nurturing collaboration. The “Yes, and” approach creates a safe space for open communication, allowing a diverse range of ideas to flourish.

The questions we ask speak volumes about our understanding, knowledge, and attitudes towards others. By developing cross-cultural communication skills rooted in mindfulness, empathy, and active listening, we can foster acceptance and a positive climate for everyone.