Are you afraid to ask questions?
Many people are – especially personal questions. They avoid them because they do not want to offend anyone.
The irony is that most people are willing to answer questions – especially about themselves and are willingly express their opinions about interesting topics when given the chance. So, why be afraid? Asking questions gives you the opportunity to become a better listener.
You are probably thinking, “How absurd. I don’t need to learn to be a better listener.” But . . . maybe, you do. Many people are poor listeners. You may be among them and not even realize it.
Become a Better Listener
Steven R. Covey said it best: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
When you listen with the intent to understand, your focus is completely on the other person’s words. You want to absorb and understand what they are telling you. You will not be distracted by your own thoughts as you try to figure out what you are going to say next.
Your full attention and ability to hear what they are saying has a positive effect on the speaker. It makes them feel valued and heard.
You may be one of the many who are in such a rush today that you rarely slow down. Listening to someone else does not seem important. You are busy. You have places to go and things to do. In conversations, your primary concern is to get your point across – not to listen to someone’s point.
If you can learn to turn off the “hurry” switch and take time to listen to others. You will be amazed at the wealth of information available to you. You will learn more than you ever imagined possible.
Why is listening with the intent to understand so important? Earl Nightingale sums it up nicely, “Treat every person as the most important person on earth. [Because] to them, they are the most important person.”
When you listen with intent, you will be treating the other person as the most important person in the world – and at that minute, she will feel like it. Everyone needs to feel important and to be heard.
Tips on Asking Good Questions
Be sincere – your goal should be to connect.
Listen to their stories. Ask questions you know they can answer, even if you already know the answers. Listen with an open mind and be ready to learn something new. It is the honest give and take of the conversation that is important.
Stay on topic.
Avoid jumping all over the place. You can switch topics, but those should also be related to what was being discussed. Using non sequiturs or irrelevant questions may confuse or annoy the other person and real communication will stop.
Don’t be manipulative.
Avoid trying to trick someone into giving a specific answer – or to show him how much smarter you are than he is.
Keep the focus on the other person.
People love to talk about themselves and if they know you are listening, they will happily answer your questions. If you have a personal example that is related, use it; but, move the focus back to the other person.
Good questions help steer the conversation.
Knowing how to ask good questions is especially helpful when talking to a “chatty” person. Chatty people can go on-and-on about almost any topic. Politely pull them back on track with another specific question. This type of focused approach can be necessary to keep the conversation moving forward.
If asking questions is new to you, you may have to practice.
You may be more of a talker than a listener and asking questions may be new for you. Practice is the only way to hone your ability to listen. Start with day-to-day interactions with colleagues, friends, and family – even strangers.
If you take public transportation to and from work, strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Some will ignore you because they are so absorbed in their phone; but others will be responsive. You may have a lot of fun as you learn about them.
If you want to be a better listener you must practice listening with intent, make the other person feel like she is the most important person on earth, and learn to ask good questions.
Enjoy the process. See you next time.