Answers Drool, Questions RULE! Three Virtues Motor Mouths Might Miss

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Recently I was driving my 12 year old son around and he was getting annoyed with my line of questions.

They weren’t rhetorical questions like: When are you going to grow up? or harassing ones like: When are you going to grow up?

Just simple, ‘help me understand what’s going on in your life kind of questions.’ School, friends, preferences, sports and the like.

This has been a recurring challenge, as my almost teenaged son holds many of my inquiries with much more suspicion than he used to.

I let the dust settle.

After a few minutes of quiet I broke the silence with “Do you know why I ask you questions?” He replied back “because you don’t know the answer?” I said, “that’s true, that’s the practical reason, but there’s more to it. I ask you questions because I love you.”

Asking good questions is a great way to demonstrate to anyone that you really care about them.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and it’s a one-way street heading right back to them. This can be really frustrating.

When the bible says “love one another” unfortunately it doesn’t then rattle off thousands of real-life examples. Much of the application of this verse is, in each and every moment, putting someone else’s needs before your own. In conversations with someone else, good questions can do just that.

I could be the exception, but I’m really blessed by the effort someone makes to ask a good question about my life. Assuming they want a real response from me, it is a very simple, practical way to be supportive as life bears down. It often helps me to uncover what’s really going on inside.  

Thinking of and asking good questions of people we care about (or even people we don’t too much like) is an exercise in virtue. We become better people when we do it. When I choose to ask and listen first and expect to talk second I grow in humility (putting others first, me second), empathy (imagining life from their perspective) and magnanimity (great hearted, generous, warm and welcoming).

Here’s a good cheat sheet to help you grow in humility, empathy, and magnanimity the next time you find yourself in conversation (like, say, tomorrow):

  1. Keep questions open-ended. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  A simple example would be “What do you like about your job?” versus “Do you like your job?” The first question keeps the conversation flowing the second one might not.
  2. Ask questions about what you’ve talked about before. The more you practice this the better you will become at remembering important events, milestones, concerns in peoples lives. This might raise the creepout factor for you, but I’ve been known to write things down from conversations I have with people to make sure I don’t forget the details of what they shared with me. I write it down because I care.
  3. Ask about what you don’t know, but would like to. What do you want to know about the person? It doesn’t have to go super deep. It can be anything from interests/hobbies/preferences to current trials/challenges all the way to hopes and dreams. Take your pick. Ask something open ended like this and you’ll be surprised at what might be stirred up right then, right there.

Has this been your experience? How has your life been impacted by good questions? What’s another virtue that comes by asking questions in conversation?


Best Communication Advice I've Received

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Every couple of months Jill and I have the chance to speak to about 100 couples who are preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church.  Different speakers come in to talk about pertinent issues for engaged couples - handling finances, sex, kids, etc..  We get to talk about “communication.”  

I’m not sure how we landed that topic, but I’m glad that we did.  It’s a golden opportunity to pass along the best bit of relationship advice that we’ve ever received: seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

Across fifteen years of marriage this one piece of advice has prevented hundreds of relational meltdowns and along the way given us thousands of tangible opportunities to love (the verb, not the feeling) each other. 

I would say a marriage is only as strong as it’s communication and I think strong communication between any two people, (especially married couples), is simply one person sharing and the other person listening.  And by listening I mean a concerted effort to understand what the other person is saying. Not just “not talking”, not just “not preparing a thoughtful response”, but focusing on the person’s words (and body language) in order to understand what they are trying to communicate.  

So, as a result more of your sentences (especially when talking with your husband or wife) should begin with: 

  • "If I’m understanding you right you are saying…"  or "if I am hearing you correctly you are saying…".  
  • And then once you repeat back to the person what you understand them to be saying, your second move shouldn’t necessarily be your response, but more questions to aid your understanding.  

Again this serves the goal: to seek understanding before seeking to be understood. Most of the time we take the opposite approach (seeking to be understood) and if two people are doing that at the same time, neither one gets their wish and both, if in an argument, are left more frustrated afterward than before.

While not fool-proof this approach will diffuse many arguments before they begin and if regularly applied could save a relationship years of frustration or resentment or even better, rescue it from it’s ultimate demise. 

Question: What’s the best piece of “communication” advice you have received?