When was the last time you asked someone a juicy question: one that inspired a thoughtful pause, a flight of fancy, a look of recognition, or a really good chat? A good question can parachute us into our deeper motivations and feelings, landing us amongst fresh insights and reflections.
There are many reasons to pose questions of others as well as of oneself. We ask because we care, because we're curious, because we don't know or don't understand, and because we want to connect more intimately.
Who are you?
What's not working?
Where are we headed?
When is it enough?
How do you do that?
We live in an era of broadcast communication with bajillions of modalities for telling everyone what we are doing and thinking. Meanwhile the mental and conversational space for asking questions seems to be dwindling. (Yes, we realize the irony of making this observation in an essay we are transmitting electronically.) Recently we experienced this broadcast mentality with someone we had just met. After telling us about herself for ten minutes, she suddenly said, "It's your turn now." She had no specific request; rather she expected us to hold forth and tell her things about ourselves as she had just done.
There is an ego component to asking good questions that requires us to suspend our personal agenda for a moment and to consider what is meaningful and relevant to someone else. Sometimes people sidestep the empathy required for asking a real question as in, "Enough about me, what do you think about me?" However, the more generous we can be in formulating our query and in actively listening, the richer the potential engagement for everyone. Speakers modify their answers to fit the quality of the space created by the person listening. When the listener looks away or cuts the speaker off mid-sentence, the air runs out of the response (and often the respondent) instantly. But should we as listeners take a moment to consider what the respondent is saying and even ask (gasp!) a follow-up question, we open ourselves up to greater understanding and connection.
As Hamlet demonstrated with his "To be, or not to be?" query, we can ask questions of ourselves as a way to guide our internal reflection and build self-awareness: What just happened? How do I feel? What do I want? What are my options? Second to meditating regularly (which we know you already do), taking time to ponder questions about ourselves is one of the best methods for being current with ourselves and experience a greater sense of calm and perspective. Imagine making decisions from a place of peaceful self-knowing. All you have to do is ask.
In our previous career as green home designers we learned the importance of not only asking questions but zeroing in on the right questions. Once we spent 45 minutes talking to a couple about where to relocate their hot tub before we thought to ask, "Do you use your hot tub?"
They paused and then answered, "Not really."
"Do you want to keep it?"
The embarrassment we felt over not having asked this basic question early on was only slightly eclipsed by the relief we felt in not having built a deck for the unwanted tub.
Many times we find ourselves marching down the wrong path because no one has had the presence of mind to ask fundamental questions. It requires courage to stop and ask: Do you still love me? What business are we really in? Does this make sense? It is sometimes necessary to channel our inner two-year-old and to keep asking "Why?" until we get to the bottom of what's really important. Other times we need questions to think outside the box as in, "If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change?" And then there is the simple, but oh-so-profound approach of asking for clarification as in "What do you mean?", "Can you tell me more?", or "Do you use your hot tub?"
What are the important questions you could ask the people you work with?
What are the caring questions you should ask your family members?
What are the interesting questions you would enjoy asking your friends?
What are the valuable questions you need to ask yourself?
Choose a category from the list above and make an effort to work your questions into the conversation. How does asking questions change the discussion? What do you experience that's different?
May asking good questions lead you to many inspiring conversations!
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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