Thursday, January 30, 2014
Asking Meaningful Questions
This week, I've been practicing on asking better questions. After reading Glennon Melton's piece on Momastery, I had to agree that sometimes asking generic questions only leads to throwaway answers. Questions like "how are you?" and "how was your day?" results in "fine, okay" when there might be so much more lying beyond that simple answer. It's up to us to ask questions that unravel those thoughts.
"We learned that if we really want to know our people, if we really care to know them - we need to ask them better questions and then really listen to their answers," Melton writes. "We need to ask questions that carry along with them this message: 'I'm not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel. I really want to know you.' If we don't want throwaway answers, we can't ask throwaway questions. A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love."
When I first started asking A. more attentive questions when he came home from work, he pointed out that the downside is that it can sound a little patronizing. I admit it does feel a little silly in the beginning, but I assured him that it could turn up interesting answers for the both of us. Instead of asking how his day was (which, as Melton pointed out, is difficult to answer because a day holds so many things), I'll ask about specific moments he experienced: if he saw something interesting on the train ride home, how his bosses reacted to his web project, how the positive feedback made him feel, what he needs or wants at that moment. I'll try and remember to pause before asking follow-up questions to make sure they're not flippant either.
We're still getting used to asking intimate questions, but I like the fact that there's so much to glean from a person based off the answers they give you. In order for that window to open, you have to set the scene for them. Make it easier for them to unlock and share different facets of themselves with you. Hearing that the day was [insert vague emotion] for the umpteenth day in a row can get predictable - so much that we don't even hear or care too much about the answer because our mind just fills in the blank for them. How many times haven't I passed by someone in the office hallway who asked "How are you?" and kept walking right past me before I've even had a chance to answer?
The key also lies in how well you know the person as well as what's going in their lives. The potential for asking better questions grows as you become closer with someone and in turn, can improve the quality of that relationship.
"Questions are like gifts -- it's the thought behind them that the receiver really FEELS," Melton writes. "We have to know the receiver to give the right gift and to ask the right question. Generic gifts and questions are all right, but personal gifts and questions feel better. Love is specific, I think. It's an art. The more attention and time you give to your questions, the more beautiful the answers become."
To read her entire piece, click here.
P.S. Ten questions to ask your mother.