All questions are not equal. We have all been on the other side of a question that put us on the defensive and sounded more like a statement or accusation. As kids we learned to sniff out the fact finding question that was about to incriminate us. Questions can be incredibly powerful in relationships but what question and how we ask the question makes all the difference. In today’s families communication is at a premium as it’s become more and more rare. Whether it’s husband and wife, mom to daughter, mom to son, dad to anyone, we seem to move through life at a fast pace, talking only about facts, schedules and maybe a few frustrations. When we ask each other questions, it seems often to be more about us than the other person. So how do we turn this around? How do we bring health and depth to our family relationships? It’s all wrapped up in the power of a good question!
So before we get into the questions, we need to do some looking in the mirror. I want to start with you, the question asker, before we get to the questions because there are a few things we can do, sometimes without realizing it, that can hurt the process.Why are we asking questions? (Because I read about it on this great blog! ha) What do we hope to gain from our time? Do we have an ulterior intention (then getting to know the other person)? If we approach another person with an agenda or if it’s perceived that we’re trying to incriminate them, the authenticity of the process is sabotaged. Sure, there are times to discover facts, sort out truth etc. but those are not the kind of questions we’re talking about in this article. The other thing we should be aware of is our own insecurities and fears. Sometimes we can approach our children or even our spouse in a way to find validation or display our neediness. When this happens, the person doesn’t feel a sincere interest to know them, but rather to ease your struggles. What may have started out with seemingly pure motives of care, are then reversed and cast a different message. Make sure that you know who you are in God’s eyes, fully loved and accepted and called to love and accept others without a selfish agenda.
Now, once you’ve done a little soul searching it’s time to think about your questions. First, think about what you want to know about the other person. What do they value? What are their dreams? what are they afraid of? concerned about? proud of? When are they most nervous? When do they feel most confident? What are they hoping happens in the next year? Everyone wants to be known and to be known means beyond the surface, beyond what everyone can see. Obviously this means we should avoid “yes/no” questions and even “fact” questions should be kept to a minimum. The heart is the driver of the feelings. When you learn what and why someone feels something, they often feel valued and known by you. Secondly, create space – one of the best times for questions for me is when I take my daughters on a “daddy-daughter date”. As we sit across from one another at a restaurant I learn the areas they struggle with in school, the teachers who made their day and the aspirations they have. The kind of questions that have the most impact will not happen in passing, but when you’re looking for it, space will present itself. The other day, my daughter missed the bus and I needed to drive her to school, the 10 minutes in the car was a great way to deepen my connection with her. My wife and I were early to an event we were attending and instead of popping on our phones while we waited, I utilized the new found space for some heartfelt questions.
Next, dig deeper with follow up questions. Many times people will dangle a little fact or feeling quickly in what seems like passing during a conversation. However, if you train yourself to notice them, you’ll find they become keys to dig deeper. For example, someone might say, “once I got through a less than positive lunch, then I had to run to the library and then after the library it was straight home.” The opportunity was presented in the comment about lunch. “So, what made lunch less than positive?” And your off and running. You see often people will throw a sentence in like that to see if someone cares enough to dig a little deeper. So many of us miss these and miss opportunities to discover that an old friend walked past her at lunch that day and gave her a look that made her feel two inches big and caused her to think about all in her life that wasn’t going right.
As strongly implied in the previous paragraph, and I think I’ll wrap this up with this…actively listen. That means I can’t listen and think about how what I’m going to say next, I need to listen to understand. I want to know you, I want to know how you think. I want to know what you value. I want to know what hurts you and what sends you soaring. Because at the end of the day, a good question is really about loving the other person. It’s about sending the message that you matter and what you think and feel matters to me! As I discover more about you, I learn how to better love you and encourage you and that is a game changer for our relationship!