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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?