[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Monday, August 6, 2012

How to Open Your Questions and Improve Your Relationships (The 3 Min Challenge)

Great relationships are built on great conversations (see my other post on this). Among the elements of a great conversation are great questions (I posted on that, too). So just ask more questions and you 'll have better relationships, right? Maybe. See, not all questions are equal.

Questions come in many forms. I can (and will eventually) do many, many posts on the art and science of asking great questions. At the most basic level, there are two types of questions: open and closed. Open questions cannot be logically answered with a “yes” or “no” response. Closed questions call for a “yes” or “no” response.

What was significant to you about this experience?
Who do you know that could help you with that?
How does that make you feel?

Have you run this decision by your spouse?
Changed to an open question: What does your spouse say about this decision?
Did you do that because you were afraid?
Changed to open version: What led you to make that decision?

Why does this technical question stuff matter? Think about the impact of the different forms of questions. Your brain instinctively tries to answer questions. You don't choose that first response; it's automatic. Open questions stimulate creativity. Closed questions stimulate critical analysis. Open questions stimulate conversation. Close questions stimulate ones-sided sharing.

There are still moments when a closed question is appropriate. It's good for targeted information gathering--like a survey or court case. ("Did you do this? Do you agree with that?") But if you're trying to build a great relationship, it's far less effective than open questions.

Think about it. Instead of asking your son, "Did you have a good day at school today?" (closed), you could ask "What did you do at school today?" While he may be in the habit of giving one word answers (helped along by years of being asked closed questions ), the open question has a far better chance of sparking a real conversation. And while questions alone don't create great relationships, they're one of the most biggest levers you can pull. Of all the skills to develop, you'll get the most bang for your buck, so to speak, from becoming a better question-asker. Improve your questions and you'll improve your relationships.

Start a conversation and for three minutes, only ask open questions or offer simple, encouraging responses (like, "Sure, I understand." or "Yeah, that's tough.") For three minutes, avoid any closed questions. In fact, don't even offer any advice--just ask open questions and encourage them. Seriously, you might be surprised at the experience. I've had hundred and hundreds of people try this and tell me how impactful it was. So give it a try and them come tell the rest of us what it was like for you and for the person you were talking with.

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