Want Better Conversations? Ask Better Questions
The reason for the effectiveness of questions in communication is quite obvious. When you assert, whether in politics, business, or day-to-day life, the reaction of the listener depends to some degree on his or her opinion of the speaker. But making the same statement in the form of a rhetorical question makes the reaction personal–and personalized communication is the best communication.
— Frank Luntz, author of Words that Work
Whether you’re at a networking event or your neighbor’s daughter’s wedding reception, you’ll enjoy yourself more next time if you have better conversations. Conversation leads to connection, and when we’re connected, we feel a part of things. Interestingly, the most compelling conversations often begin with questions, because questions engage a listener (or potential conversation partner) in ways that a statement — no matter how accurate — cannot. Effective questions open the door to understanding, to partnership, to simpatico.
If you want to become a better conversationalist, take some time to develop good question-asking skills – eliminate the predictable, trite, rhetorical questions, instead asking questions that trigger real thought and lead to an honest, open dialogue. The strongest skill of a good questioner lies in knowing which questions to ask when. Approach your potential conversation partner as if you were an alien visiting from another planet. If you could press a magic button that would reveal all the information you want to know about this person, what would that be? As soon as you discover where your curiosity lies, you’ll begin asking good questions.
Remember to ask open-ended questions, rather than closed questions that can be answered with a monosyllabic “yes” or “no” response. Open questions move the conversation from “How are you?” to “Who are you?” because they invite the other to offer an opinion or description, giving you, the question-asker, insight into his or her character and interests. The more the relevant the questions are to the person’s life, the more interested they will likely be in answering it. Good questions go deep enough to be challenging, but are not so prying as to be overwhelming.
Open-ended questions give people the opportunity to share their experiences and preferences and demonstrate creativity or storytelling skills. What’s more, the better you get to know the new person, the more interesting they become and the more fodder you have for further good questions. Ask specific questions only if you want to hear a specific answer.
Want to be the hit of the next party you attend? Brush up on your question-asking skills now and see how popular you become!
LAURA ORSINI is the author of the forthcoming book, 1,001 Real-Life Questions for Women: A Self-Exploration Workbook to Make You Laugh, Cry, Ponder, Ruminate, & Consider. Sign up for her November 16 teleconference: In All Honesty – The Power and Process of Asking and Answering Questions and find other launch events at 1001RLQFW.com.