If you want to improve your relationships learn to ask good questions. Frankly, if you want to improve your life learn to ask good questions.
While research shows that we get a hit of dopamine every time we talk about ourselves, there are hidden benefits to learning more about others. Not the least of which is that the more you know about another person and the more they know about you, the greater the intimacy. The greater the sense of being seen, heard, and in the best of all possible worlds, validated.
When you think about your own interactions which way do you lean? Are you doing most of the talking or most of the listening? As obvious as it sounds, the more balanced the mix, the greater the likelihood for a true meeting of the minds and hearts.
If you’ve noticed that you do most of the talking, you may want to take a step back and focus on listening. It can be exciting to discover what others think, feel and experience.
Asking questions with yes or no answers will not plumb someone else’s depths. On the other hand, asking questions with open-ended answers often takes the conversation into unexplored areas.
You don’t need to be a psychotherapist to learn a few simple questions that can lead to far more satisfying relationships.
Here are a few of my favorites:
What’s on your mind these days?
How are you spending your time lately?
What’s bringing you joy?
Your questions don’t need to get sophisticated, intellectual, or fancy. It’s really amazing how asking one of these seemingly simple ones can bring forth a wealth of information. And once someone gets going you can ask them follow-up questions.
The trick is not interrupting and resisting using what they say to pivot into your own experience. We all interrupt and we all go off on our own tangents. It’s not about never doing it, it’s about doing it less and being aware of when you do it.
I once read a study that showed that the happiest families were ones in which everybody interrupted each other during dinner. Clearly, you don’t want to sacrifice spontaneity to the god of rigidity; on the other hand, you don’t want to be a conversational bully.
Since most people enjoy the dopamine hit they get from talking about themselves, you can use that to your advantage conversationally. It will, as Dale Carnegie used to say, win you friends and influence people. Yet, it may not be satisfying for you. If all you’re doing is listening to other people all the time, you may feel dissatisfied, unseen, or resentful. For most people, this gets old fast. That’s why sometimes it’s helpful to just jump in with your own experience.
If all you’re doing is asking questions all the time your conversation can feel more like an interrogation. It’s more like a dance. A dance many find difficult. Unlike a dance, one person isn’t always leading. It’s give-and-take. In the best conversations this appears to happen effortlessly and feels incredibly satisfying. There are times of pure listening and reflecting, mixed with times of spontaneous jumping in with one’s own thoughts.
Simply paying attention to your own conversational style, and that of your closest friends and family, can be a very enriching experience. Just notice if one person is dominating, or if there is an ebb and flow.
The one exception to everything I have said is if somebody is going through a really hard time. That’s when the conversation will be more one-sided to let you offer the most support. When people are going through something challenging they need every dopamine hit they can get. If venting provides some, I suggest letting them vent.
It can be fascinating to notice different conversational dynamics you have with various people in your life and to adjust your own behavior to make these interactions more satisfying.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang