There is an odd thing happening in conversations. When you meet someone new, the conversation is lopsided with only one person asking questions of the other. When an acquaintance or colleague is done answering the questions, they just walk away. It is unfulfilling for the person on the other side.
It seems some are eager to tell their story. Some are willing to tell a lot about their weekend or viewpoint. The missing element in conversations is the return questions. All is becoming a fast and energetic one way flow of information.
Mark Twain once said:
“A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”
Today, my take is:
“A person’s character is learned from the questions unasked in a conversation.”
We need to take a deep breath in conversations, as they should be a mix of giving and taking in. A rhythm to conversations occurs when questions are bouncing back and forth. All are being heard and involved.
A few conversational points to remember:
Answer questions fully. When asked a question, tell your story or give your answer fully. Others were interested enough to ask, so answer with what you are comfortable with.
Give people your full attention. Put away your digital devices, and stop looking for someone else to talk with. Pay attention to the person in front of you. Being fully present in every conversation will speak well of your character.
Ask questions to gain an understanding. At times, asking the same question of another is appropriate and right. At other times, it may be more valuable to ask a different question to gain a deeper understanding. Listen to the questions being asked, and build upon them. An escalating inquisitive conversation will develop better relationships for projects and initiatives, as well as just expanding the human connection.
Take a mindfulness test at the end of a conversation. When a conversation has ended, spend a few minutes reviewing it in your mind. How many questions were asked by all involved? Was there a balanced curiosity? Was the time learning about each other equitable? We need to learn from our conversations by gauging our presence and then taking some mental notes for the next one.
There are few things more satisfying than an interactive and thoughtful conversation. A well-composed conversation is one in which all are asking questions of each other, listening to learn, and building on each other’s views and stories.
What conversational points would you add to raise the value of our exchanges?
Join the Conversation
The Importance of Questions in Conversations
Depending on the relationship (established, or still early on), people appreciate being asked about themselves and their families. Sometimes, common ground can be forged based on simple things in common, and even differences in personal experiences. I find this deepens relationships and plants seeds for future community-building in most instances.
Thank you, Lynn, for your comment. I agree that understanding our similarities and differences deepens our relationships and makes for a stronger community bond. We need to take the time to discover the uniqueness of the people we interact with. Thanks again for your insights. Jon
I keep thinking how good of an idea “being fully present” is, but I still catch myself drifting at every opportunity. Even still, I notice how often others aren’t fully present in conversations. It really is a gift to receive someone’s full attention.
A great way to put it, Michael. Receiving someone’s full attention is a gift, and it is what makes conversations meaningful. Thank you! Jon