How are you? The question we’ve thrown out there unthoughtfully after an awkward “hello” only to have someone say “good” and regurgitate it right back to us as they continue to speed walk by. Why are we like this? There is no eye contact, there is no presence, no recognition of our shared human experience. Yet, this quintessentially embodies our most common interactions with one another, an odd absence of connection and authenticity in social beings. And sometimes that is how we want it, just two strangers passing.
But the question of “how are you?” really asks for more. By it’s structure it is a great question, open-ended and not leading. For example, “did you have a good day”, is a closed question only requiring a yes or no, and it makes you want to say yes because I asked about your “good day”. Other common questions like “why did you do that?”, although open-ended, feel accusatory when we start with why. Or “when are you going to do this?”, is demanding, assumes you must do it, and is closed because a date is all that is needed. There is a time and place for brief and decisive interactions. This blog is not about those.
This is about being able to connect. More meaningful relationships come from better conversations, that come from thoughtful questions, that come from active listening. So to listen better, there is a need for thoughtful questions that provoke better answers. Quality questions are ones that don’t lead to an expected or automated answer and request more than a single word response. When asked, they feel different, giving the answerer room to reflect on their thoughts and experiences. How they respond is telling of what the question brings up for them and in what direction their energy is focused. In spirit then, “how are you?” and “how was your day?” are high quality and reflective, but we’re immune to answering intentionally. So, these niceties can get us a good and chronological list of the day’s events even when we are making an attempt at having better conversations.
Instead of asking how are you? or how was your day?
On a scale of 1-10 rate your day?
What color would you pick to describe how you are feeling at this moment?
*When someone responds to an interpretive question like this, do not impose the meaning of the number or color. Keeping your interpretation to yourself, simply follow up with what does that mean to you? Oftentimes we want to show we understand and can connect so badly that we put our ideas out there. By asking, we hear what they are trying to share, and that peels back another layer to what they are trying to communicate
Tell me all about your day starting with the best thing that happened?
Thoughtful questions make the answerer engage with the question and subsequently you. The turning wheels in their mind become visible before they thoughtfully respond.
As an asker, questions with depth reveal you are present and interested. You will listen better because you are more engaged in the response and have tapped into the human experience in an authentic way. This is the essence of building meaningful relationships. You don’t need a super creative question to connect. In these examples, it facilitates an authentic interaction jumping over the defenses we have up all the time.
Being able to have a quality interaction begins with listening. And it lasts the entirety of your time together with another human being. You’d be surprised by how simple and difficult the skill of active listening is. In building the skill, people will engage with you differently, even when you ask basic questions because they know you are there to listen. They seek you out and are primed to share.
So, tell me what reading this blog makes you think of?