But that’s only half of the equation. Once you ask, you need to listen to the answer.
And if you ask, you should really want to know the answer.
I was thinking about this topic just today.
Has something like this ever happened to you?
I was walking across campus, from one meeting to the next when I passed several people I knew. A few just said hi or waved, but most greeted me “Hi, how are you?” I always replied, “Good.” Whether I was really good or not didn’t matter, I knew they asked the question out of habit and not because they were ready to have a conversation about my how I was.
How could I tell that? Because they were already past me as they finished the question.
So even if I wasn’t “good”, there was no time, or interest, to know the real answer. It’s not because the people didn’t like me or didn’t care about me, it was just a habit they didn’t think twice about. Has this happened to you? Do you always ask people how they are out of habit?
Have you ever asked a question, had it answered and then forgot almost immediately what the answer was?
Have you asked a question when you didn’t have time to hear the full answer? (Maybe you just wanted to hear “good” or a quick yes or no.)
We all do these things, but you can learn to ask better questions and listen to the answers so that people want to talk to you. Learning to ask good questions and to listen is what I would call a power skill. And it’s a valuable one.
Let’s start with how to ask better questions
- Are you looking for a quick answer to a simple question? Then ask it as a yes or no question. For example, “Would you like to go to the spring dance with me?” The person you ask doesn’t need to give you their life story, just a short answer. (Hopefully a yes!)
- Do you want to know more about the person and get a longer answer? Then use an open ended question that starts with how, what or why? “What do you think about the spring dance theme this year?” The person responding can’t just say yes or no, they have to tell you their opinion. Whats, whys and hows are great conversation starters.
- Ask like you mean it. Stop everything else you’re doing – texting, working on the computer, listening to music (take your headphones off or remove your earbuds from both ears) – look the person in the eye, and ask your question. People will know if you want to know their response or if they should just say “good” and get on with their day.
- If you don’t have time for the answer, it’s okay to wait and ask later. I have worked hard not to ask the automatic “how are you?” I only ask when I can stop and listen to the answer. If I slip back into old habits and say, “Hi, how are you?” I make myself slow down and listen for the answer. I want people to know I ask because I care to know how they are. Ask the question at a time when you have the time to listen.
What’s the difference? When you hear something, your brain just registers that sounds are being made. When you listen, you are focused on the meaning of the words and what’s being said. A good way to check if you listened is to tell the person what you think they said in your own words. This repetition helps you remember and it lets the other person know you were really listening.
So why do I say Asking + Listening = Knowledge? Because whether you are talking to a friend or asking a teacher for more information on something you didn’t understand, listening to the response is the key to learning. Taking in the information, letting your brain process the meaning of what the person is saying, even listening to how the person is answering (tone, eye contact, posture), can only be done when you are focused on the response.
So be different. Think before you ask. Ask when you have time to listen. Listen with focus to the answer. And let the answer give you more knowledge about your friends, family and your studies.
Add your comment below on how you listen or tips for asking good questions! You can also contact me here.
Thanks for reading. Make it a great day – of asking and listening!