Asking All Them Questions

I had been invited to coffee by a friend recently. It was nice. We hadn't hung out in a while and there were a lot of things to catch up on. With our busy schedule, we figured out a time pretty quickly and headed out.

Arriving at coffee, we went to a usual spot here in Saint Petersburg and ordered a nice pour over and sat. 

And then somehow it got awkward. Not overly awkward but awkward in the fact that I had wondered what we will talk about. I engaged in small talk for a bit, began asking him questions that I already knew the answers to but wanted to spark discussion. We'd talk for a while and then it would get silent. I'd look at him, hoping he'd ask some questions on his own but they seldom came.

It's been days now since we went out to coffee. I've been replaying that scene every day since however.

Why is it hard to ask questions? Why should we ask questions? What does it look like to be engaging? Why do should we even care about this at all?

Here is the truth

People just don't know how to ask questions. We have long gotten away from living out true authentic community. We've gotten away from the excitement of wanting to know more about one another. What makes a person come alive. What makes them excited. What makes them feel the way that they do or not. We've gotten away from being interested in others. We've gotten away from that because we are just interested in ourselves most often. So what we do then is talk about ourselves or wait to talk about ourselves. 

You see, whenever you begin to ask questions in a dialogue, what you are essentially saying is you are important. You are valuable. You are worth getting to know. You're saying, I want to see you. And isn't that key? 

We all want to be known and to be seen.

It's so often my hearts desire to create spaces where people feel the freedom to be heard and seen and known. I ask a ton of questions. Ask anyone who is closest to me. I have an unyielding desire to understand someone to their very core. I want people to who I come in contact with to feel important enough for me to sit, remain, and get to know them without any agenda or any restraint.

But how?

Yeah, that's often it right? It's not that we are being malicious when we don't ask. It's we often don't know how to ask. So here are some tips you can try:

  • Ask open-ended questions: try to stay clear of questions that can only illicit "yes" or "no" answers. These are often freebies and quick and don't lead to in depth question. I utilize them when I am seeking clarity...which I will get to in a second.
  • Ask how a certain situation made them feel. Then ask them, "when was the last time you felt that way"
  • Ask get to know you questions: How old were you when? Why did you choose to major in that subject? How did you feel on your wedding day and why? What gets you excited and why? What drains you?
  • Clarify statements: In a conversation, so much can be said especially if we are just letting someone talk. I like to clean up some of the trailing thoughts by asking or saying things like, "What I hear you saying is..... is that what you meant to say? If so help me understand that a little more". When you do this, you give the sense that you are generally trying to understand a point the other person is trying to make. That gives off good vibes.
  • Validate their concerns: You may not share their views but you must remember to respect them. So when I'm in that situation, I try to use language like, "Man, I hate that ... made you feel that way." or "I'm so sorry that you're going through that hurt right now"
  • Encourage and affirm: in all things, find pockets where you can affirm that persons identity in the story that they are sharing. Use lines like, "Yeah, I bet you are really great at that." or "You know, I've seen you do that and I want to be more like you in that regard". We're all looking for someone to affirm our identities. You can help. 

So, this week, go to coffee with someone. Use some of the tips that I listed above and engage someone. Build a stronger authentic community. Get to know someone. Step outside of yourself. Make the other person more important. 

Meiko SeymourComment