Better questions lead to better conversations. When you ask an open-ended question, you’re going to get a much richer response and invite whomever you’re talking to into a true dialogue. And I’m guessing that you may not realize how many dead-end questions you might be asking.
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Be More Inquisitive
You’ll probably recognize this situation. Your kid comes home from school (ah, remember when kids went to school?? Moment of silence), and you say “How was your day?” and they say “fine”. And it’s kind of like the conversation ran into a brick wall. Or you ask the perennial “How are you?” and you get the automatic “fine.” And boom, your conversation is at a complete standstill pretty much as soon as it started.
And yet, of course we want to ask the people we’re talking to questions. Being inquisitive is how we show we’re interested in the other person. I mean, how many times have you had a conversation with someone and walked away with that hollow feeling in your stomach as you realized that they didn’t ask you one question? That doesn’t feel good, am I right?
But it’s really not as simple as just asking any old question (although, please, let the record show that pretty much any question is better than no questions). There are four qualities to questions that tend to elevate conversation and foster connection.
Better questions are:
Let’s look at these one by one
You don’t basically answer your own question just by asking it. So, instead of “Want to have a picnic on Saturday?” you ask, “What are your hopes and dreams for the weekend?” Open-ended questions leave space for curiosity and collaboration. Instead of trying to get a specific answer, you are seeking to learn more. This is how you get a dynamic conversation going that leads to a creative end that you couldn’t have predicted or landed on no matter how hard you tried.
You ask a very basic question, such as “How was it?” instead of “Did you have a good time?” Asking if someone had a good time is kind of like saying, “Please tell me you had a good time,” which…isn’t really a question. “How was it?” gives the other person free rein to really tell you how it was. That breeds understanding and leaves room for empathy—because if you can truly see someone else’s experience through their eyes, that’s how you understand more of what it’s like to be them. That’s how they feel seen and heard, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Is pretty self explanatory, although it’s not necessarily easy to do–because you really do have to rein yourself in from expressing whatever judgment you have about the situation. For example, you’d ask, “What happened?” instead of “How could you mess this up?” It can help to remind yourself that you’re just looking to gather information. Or a classic example is instead of, “What did you do to your hair?”, you say, “How do you feel about your new haircut?” It seems extreme but we’ve all been guilty of asking a judgmental question, especially with family members.
Thought-provoking questions really makes people go “hmmm.” An example is “Is there another way to think about this?” Or, “What does your gut say?” Or, and this is a classic from the coaching world, “If you knew the answer, what would it be?” Ooh, that’s a mind-bender-y one for anytime you’re trying to help someone through something and they are saying they don’t know what to do next.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Now, I’m sharing these in the context of communicating better with other people, but these guidelines for better questions also 100% applies to questions you ask yourself. When you find yourself asking yourself judgmental questions, like, “How did you screw this up so badly?” remember to walk that back and replace it with, “What happened?” Or interrupting a train of thought where you contemplate various scenarios to ask, “What does my gut say?”
Your tiny assignment is to ask at least one of these types of questions today.