It often seems we’re hyper-sensitive about invading other people’s privacy. As a result a lot of people engage in inane or boring conversation, trying to tip-toe around questions that appear to be invasive. Yet asking questions, especially personal questions, can be a great way of showing interest and building healthy relationships.
I recall many conversations as a child with my parents that ended at a blank wall of silence because they wanted facts or answers, some of which I didn’t have. It was very similar to what Judge Judy does to her courtroom participants. I really wanted a safe place to share about my life, without judgment, without back-lash, and without emotional upset.
I now know a mechanism that enables anyone to enter into a deep conversation with someone without demanding a lot of facts: Powerful Questions. Powerful questions are provocative and open-ended. They send your listener to new territory. They are inherently curious. They communicate that you’re asking them to think about their situation, but that it’s not about you getting more information so that you can help them. You’re simply being curious in a healthy way.
Some sample powerful questions are: What are the possibilities? If you had your choice, what would you do? What are possible solutions? What do you make of it all? What do you think? What do you think is best? How does it look to you? How do you feel about it? What have you tried so far? What do you mean? What does it look/sound/feel like? What seems to confuse you? What was it like? What happened? How does this fit with your plans/way of life/values? What do you think?
Good listeners naturally fall into the pattern of using powerful questions; that’s what makes them good listeners. I find a lot of men are excellent in asking powerful questions and then letting the other ramble on about what’s going on in their lives. Men in particular also find that mutual activity is a great context for conversation; simply sitting around talking doesn’t always work for them. They sometimes need to engage physically in order to work out their mental process.
So who around you are you concerned about? Who seems to need a friend or a non-judgmental, listening ear? How might you reach out with a powerful question to an acquaintance or colleague and begin building a relationship of trust and care? Think of how often in conversation with women you could have used powerful questions to help them process. These are the enterprises we humans ought to be engaged in more often than not. Let’s get away from the electronics and spend more time verbally engaged and we might solve a lot more of our culture’s problems in the long run….all starting with a powerful question.
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