I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: relationships are complicated. Anytime you have something as unique and complex as two human beings interacting the results can be beautiful or catastrophic. Let me clarify, I’m not just talking about romantic relationships, I am talking about all relationships. The relationships with our friends, parents, children, co-workers, and anyone else in our lives that we have a connection with. At its base components, that is all any relationship is: a connection. So in evaluating ways to improve any relationship you have in your life, I’ve figured out the ONE thing you can do to strengthen any connection you have with the people in your life:
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Ask Better Questions
Now before you immediately write that off as “too easy” or “obvious”, hear me out…
What are some of the most common questions we ask each other? They are things like “how was your day?” or “how are you doing?”. What we don’t take into consideration is the fact that the answers to those types of questions are often times more expansive than we give them credit for. Sure, we want to know the actual answer to those types of questions, but where does the person answering start? If someone asked me right now how I was doing, my answer could take an hour. So instead I just say something like, “I am good – how are you?” To which the response is something similar, and whatever chance of bonding, empathizing, sharing, venting, and connecting is lost in small talk.
Take that same scenario, and replace the “how are you?” question with something more specific like “how is that project at work going?”. Now you open the conversation up to an actual connection. The questions we ask each other are the stepping stones to better conversations and connections. My sister had a friend in college who was very close with our family, and anytime she was around she would always ask “what was the best part of your day?” Something that simple could spark a conversation in a group setting that not only lasted for hours but was a REAL conversation.
Imagine if you will, instead of walking in the door after a day at work and asking your partner “how was your day?”, you asked them something like “what was your favorite part of your day?” Or instead of asking your siblings “how are things going?”, you asked them something specific about their children. What people don’t realize about asking a better question, is that it shows that you are inherently interested in their lives. That concept is actually an age-old sales tactic. By showing your customers that you remember things about their families or hobbies, you make them feel important.
Read: I Want a Worthwhile Relationship, Not a Perfect One
The flip side of that is that other than just making someone feel important, you get REAL information instead of just a canned response. You’d be amazed how many people in your life are dying to open up, but feel like they don’t have the chance. I’ve always said, “don’t ask a question if you’re not ready for whatever the answer is.” People in our lives tend to hold things at bay for the fear of bombarding you with too much information, but if you are asking honest and specific questions you are basically giving them permission to say exactly what it is they are wanting to say.
Again, I admit that this seems like a simple concept, but I promise you that if you try it – you will see results. Small talk has its place in this world, but it shouldn’t be the basis of our conversations with the people that are closest to us. Show them you care, connect with them, and share what is really going on in your head and heart.