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Any questions? Mindful Q and As help us better serve our clients and communities

By Trina Adler, program leader in health and nutrition

Woman holding a phone that says I'll be asking the questions from now on.

The other day I witnessed a couple of Family Development staff do a very courageous thing: They asked a question. They asked about some innovative, edgy work they were doing, knowing full well that the answer they receive might force them to back off from the path they were taking.
They also were aware that by asking the question, they may evoke a response of negativity, shaming or irritation. Despite these risks, they asked. They knew it was better to be up front about their work and get guidance and clarity rather than fly under the radar and possibly face consequences for it down the road.

I also saw some members of Extension leadership do an amazing job of listening, learning, and understanding as staff explained their work to them. Instead of summarily answering with judgment, directives, policies and protocols, they asked questions back to gain clarity and fully understand the scope of the situation before responding.

Without judgment or expectation

After participating in the “Mindfulness at Work” class, it is clear to me that it takes practice and patience to ask and answer questions “mindfully,” without judgment or expectation. One of my goals for 2018 is to work on how I handle my questions and answers. While it should of course be the norm within a respectful workplace environment, I will admit I sometimes fall short of reining in my emotional overtones in both the asking and answering of questions.

Sometimes I am doggedly seeking a particular answer (“Can I use funds to provide lunch for the meeting I am hosting next week?”). Sometimes I am embarrassed that I don’t know the answer to a question (“Trina, what EFS string should I use for _____?”). Sometimes I am just overwhelmed with the question (“Trina what do YOU think the priorities of Health and Nutrition should be?”).

It makes me think about the people and communities we serve in our Family Development programs, and the constant asking and answering that they do to secure basic needs and keep their families safe. How often are they forced to ask questions that put them at risk of taking a loss (“Does my income from my new minimum wage job disqualify me for SNAP benefits?”)? How often are they forced to answer questions that are uncomfortable or possibly incriminating (“How many people live with you in your home?”)?

I encourage you join me in a goal of respectful and open asking and answering in 2018 by posing these questions to yourselves: Besides the usual demographics and pre-test information, what else are we doing to get to know our participants? Are we learning about and sharing with our partners solely in a professional context, or do we add some personal spin to create a connection? Do we listen carefully and suspend judgment with our Extension colleagues?

I’m convinced that truthfully answering these questions for ourselves and then acting accordingly will help us all serve our clients and communities better in 2018. Good luck with your mindful Q and As. And feel free to ask me any questions.
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