Hello everyone and welcome to today’s episode, no. 67, the last one for Season Three. I’ll say more about Season Four later at the end of the show. For today, we’re here to demonstrate how better listening creates deeper relationships. We'll see how monitoring ourselves in how we listen helps transform our relationships into the best they can be.
In prior episodes I talked about listening and the role that questions play in deepening our relationships. I gave a number of examples in several stories I shared. But there’s something about seeing it demonstrated, that for a lot of us, makes it easier to understand. So that is what we’re doing in today’s show. Hopefully what you hear today will equip and inspire you to ask better questions to deepen your relationships.
If you listened to episode 66 from last week, you may remember I had a conversation with Maureen Kasdorf, who shared about the time she seriously considered taking her own life, because of how depressed and hopeless she was feeling at the time.
Today I’m going to go back over excerpts from that conversation and comment on what was going on in my mind as I listened to Maureen, and how I used the question asking principle we’ve been considering recently.
You’ll be able to hear what went well, as well as where I needed to improve.
So let’s go! I should tell you first that a listener to last week’s episode asked if I gave Maureen a list of questions ahead of time before our conversation. I did not. She didn’t know what I was going to ask. We didn’t need a list. All I needed to do was to think what life must have been for her during that difficult time in her life. And then follow her lead with questions in response to what she said. That was all we needed. No list at all.
And that’s all you’ll need, too, in your conversations.
What prompted the conversation I wanted to have with Maureen was her Facebook post from about 8 months ago, which I will read in just a second. Shortly after she put up her post I saw her in person at church and asked her if she would be willing to be a guest on this podcast to share her story behind her brief Facebook entry. She agreed without hesitation.
I told her it may be awhile before we would do the interview because of other things I had lined up for the show, and she was fine with that.
So when we recorded our conversation several weeks ago, I prepared nothing, other than to think, “What might it have been like for Maureen that prompted her to post her entry about suicide.” It evoked a number of questions in my mind.
These were follow-up questions, which I did not want to write down, because I didn’t want our conversation to sound like an interview, even though that is what it was. I wanted the questions to come naturally and organically as we moved along in our discussion. For as often the case, people will answer our questions without us even having to ask them, if we just let people talk.
We began our conversation by exchanging pleasantries, and then I said to Maureen, “I want to read what you wrote and then I’d like your comments about it.” So listen in to what I read back to her and how we got started.
[Clip 1 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
As you heard, we started with me making a statement, which was really a question, “Tell me what prompted that.” It comes off as a little cold to me now. I wish I had phrased it more as a question and been a little warmer with Maureen in the beginning.
She answered my question by saying September in National Suicide Awareness month and she wanted to draw attention to the fact that help is available to people who struggle with this issue. She said she wanted to give people hope.
Then there was a pause in the conversation, and I once again, asked a question, partly in the form of a statement: “Tell us about your suicidal journey. How did it start, and where are you with it now?”
[Clip 2 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
Maureen goes on to talk about bouts of anxiety in college, and then more anxiety when she became a mother and was more isolated.
I wanted to ask “What were you anxious about? Can you give me an example.” Fortunately I didn’t ask, because Maureen was on a roll, and I didn’t want to violate the “Cops and Robbers” listening principle. People in law enforcement are taught that when interviewing a suspect or person of interest to never interrupt that person when they are talking. Your goal is to keep them talking as long as possible. Don’t say anything that will cause them to stop.
As curious as I was about this anxiety issue. I just kept it to myself, for fear of interrupting her train of thought.
You may notice in these excerpts I make a number of listening noises, things like, “ah huh, yeah, oh, hmm.” In my master’s program in counseling, we were taught to use listening noises as a way of identifying with the client, the other person, to help affirm, and build a bond of trust with them. The problem with listening noises though is that they can sound canned, contrived. So in the real world they have to be sincere.
For me, if I’m tracking with someone, they just come out of me naturally without thinking, like carbon dioxide when I’m breathing. But every once in awhile, after we’ve been with someone for the evening my wife will smile and gently say to me, “you were doing it again tonight.” The “it,” of course, being making too many listening noises.
Well anyway, Maureen moved on to describe how her anxiety transitioned into depression around the time of her 3rd pregnancy, and I wondered if it had anything to do with postpartum depression. But again, asking about that would have interrupted the flow of things.
If you remember what we talked about in episode 65, I described listening as dancing a waltz, where you let the other person lead, and you follow them around the ballroom floor. If I had asked about postpartum depression I’m afraid I would be leading, and not Maureen.
Maureen continues on by sharing a key event that unlocked things for her.
[Clip 3 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
Here’s another point I wanted to jump in and talk myself about the power of naming something that’s been an amorphous albatross around someone’s neck. But that would have interrupted Maureen, and switched our roles on the listening ballroom dance floor. So I just shut up. We could always talk about what was on my mind later when she was finished.
In this next clip while Maureen continues to talk about her feelings, then listen to what I say:
[Clip 4 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
I had been going along fairly well up to this point, but here is where Carol, our executive producer, said my listening grade dropped to a “D.” She’s a tough grader, but I would have to agree with her. I never should have interrupted Maureen with “by the way, were those feelings before or after you started on the medication?”
The answer to the question did nothing to further Maureen’s story. The question was all about me, and not about Maureen. Let this be a warning, don’t do what I did. Don’t let your pointless curiosity questions that lead to no where get in the way of the other person’s story. .. especially if Carol happens to hear you.
Fortunately, Maureen got us back on track from this derailment I caused by describing that crucial moment where she’s lying on her bathroom floor and sent a text to her girlfriend, “Help.”
Maureen’s cadence starts to slow down at this point, which gave me a chance to ask a follow-up question. Listen in.
[Clip 5 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
Because Maureen had mentioned her husband Mike earlier, I wanted to follow-up with that. I was so glad I did, because his part in all this just adds to the depth of Maureen’s story.
For me, this was one of the richest parts of my conversation with Maureen. How her friends responded to her being broken. The leveling of hurts, as Maureen describes it, along with “it allowed them to minister to me. It was hard for Mike. Scary for him. Not knowing what he’d find when he came home. He had to ask hard questions of me he didn’t want to ask.”
In this next clip, Maureen finishes talking about her husband, and then I ask another follow-up question.
[Clip 6 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
Carol said I started to redeem myself here from my earlier question that interrupted Maureen. I waited for her to slow down and pause, so I could ask my follow-up question about therapy. And it did get a little light-hearted with the talk about how everyone needs therapy, and I did interrupt with “I agree, by the way.” That interruption was OK, because it added to the relaxed mood. It didn’t take anything away from Maureen’s story, unlike my earlier interruption. Carol is nodding her head and giving me a thumbs up on that one.
Maureen goes on to share all the things she learned from her therapist. Then I tried to summarize what she learned from him, with a slight twist, to make sure I understood things correctly. That’s when I asked this follow-up question:
[Clip 7 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
Maureen’s “yes, but….” answer told me I didn’t get it quite right. She went on to explain she learned she didn’t have to be like every other mom. That she didn’t need to be perfect. So even though my partial analysis of the role her being a mother played in all this was not entirely accurate, that was okay because she provided more clarity.
Her response then evoked in me to ask another follow-up question. Listen in
[Clip 8 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
I love that “What else?” follow-up question. It’s an invitation to the other person to talk more. To go deeper. It almost always unlocks more of the person’s heart. And for verbal processors, it’s especially meaningful. So you can give this a try yourself. See how many times you can work in “What else?” into your conversations with people.
In the previous excerpt Maureen mentioned she learned more about relationships in her time with her therapist. Her comment drew out another follow-up question within me. I asked Maureen this question as she finished up what she was saying in this next segment.
[Clip 9 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
I love that story about how she loves her therapist. He sounds like one of the really good ones. Her relationships with her girl friends and the empathy she developed coming from her own hurt was quite touching. She talked about her strengthened relationship with her husband Mike and her parents.
After she finishes talking about her mom and dad, I make an observation in follow-up to what she just said.
[Clip 10 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
We’ll have an episode next season in the fall about observations, how they can be even more powerful than questions. Notice how Maureen responded to my observation. It’s the same effect as a follow-up question I mentioned before. It’s an invitation to share from a deeper corner of one’s heart. Which is what she did.
Maureen’s talking now about the present, about the other side of the tunnel where the light is. And then her explanation to her young children of what she’s taking medicine for, “It’s for my brain.” And then I jump in with “That’s a great answer!” I was just caught up in the joy of that simple, but highly accurate pharmacological explanation for her toddlers. It’s OK once in awhile to interrupt like that.
We’ll, we’re getting near the end now. Here’s my next question to Maureen, another follow-up question:
[Clip 11 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
I asked two closed ended questions along the lines of , “Did you get any reaction to your Facebook post?” Maureen’s answer was essentially “yes.” But she went on to elaborate. She’s a very articulate verbal person, so I got away with a close ended question. Don’t expect the same result when you’re talking to a teenage boy or someone behind the counter at the post office. A more opened ended question would have been, “What kind of reaction, if any, did you get to your Facebook post?”
Another thing I noticed in the last clip was how Maureen was reacting to my question. Four times she said “yeah.” These were her listening noises that showed she was tracking with what I was saying. We were listening well to each other in our listening waltz, and for a brief moment I was leading and she was following. Great conversations do that, back and forth. I hope you find that dynamic in your conversations, where sometimes you lead, but more times you follow.
Maureen goes on to describe the wonderful reaction she received from people, which I found quite moving. People even sent her flowers. Over a Facebook post, no less. She then mentions again what motivated her to write that post. And then I make an observation that follows up on her comment. Give a listen.
[Clip 12 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
Here again Maureen and I are tracking together about the “mercy” she mentions in her post. She elaborates on it in a really beautiful way. You really should really listen in to episode 66 again if you haven’t done so.
Well by this time our conversation had gone for longer than I had asked Maureen to plan for, and I expected her kids would be needing her soon. So after Maureen talks about how grateful she was for the help she received, I asked her another follow-up question to start wrapping things up.
[Clip 13 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
When I asked my “what advice do you have?” question, there was a longer than normal pause before Maureen answered. I could hear the wheels spinning in her head as she formulated a response. This period of silence when people are thinking sometimes makes us as the listener a little uncomfortable. But as I’ve said on other occasions, “let silence do the heavy lifting.” And that was what was happening here. Maureen went on to give some very wise and thoughtful suggestions, far deeper than you’d find in places like People magazine. All this to say, don’t be afraid to allow for silence in your conversations.
In this final clip, after Maureen finishes with the advice she has for people, I ask one last follow up question, which she answers. And then I make one last observation. Listen in as we bring this plane in for a landing
[Clip 14 from interview. Sorry, no transcript is available]
As often the case, many times the last part of a substantive conversation is the deepest and richest. My “Any last words?” question is just another variation of “What else?” Both are very powerful follow-up questions we can use in many different contexts. Try incorporating this question as you conclude conversations, and you’ll be surprised how often the best stuff comes up in response.
These and what else? questions are like Jesus’ 1st miracle at the wedding feast in Cana. They were running out of wine at the reception, so Jesus turned some plain old water into wine, that was praised as “the best wine,” not the watered-down stuff served at the end of most wedding receptions.
May your questions be like 2nd wine, the best wine. “Any last words?” or “What else?” will help get you there.
Like any good conversation, this one left me wanting at the end. Wanting to know more about the other person, in this case, Maureen. I wanted to more about her husband, Mike and how he coped with all this. He must be a gem of a guy. I wanted to know more about her friends, who in the midst of their own brokenness help lift Maureen out of that dark pit she was in.
And I wanted to know more about Maureen. For hearing her story was also hearing God’s story in moving in her life, and conforming her more and more into his image. Good conversations do that. They really do.
May all the rest of us do what we can to create an environment where conversations like Maureen and I had are commonplace. Where they’re the norm, not the exception. God made us for this!
If you forget everything else, here’s the one thing I hope you remember from today’s episode. Our show in a sentence:
God uses broken people to help broken people
Well, now that you’ve heard all this, what you can do in response?
Make it your goal to have people tell you, “Thank you for asking.” Be it in a comment they make, an email they send, or a note they mail.
And then you can ask God to show you how you can use your brokenness to bless other broken people, relying on the wisdom, strength, and grace he gives you.
As always, another thing you could do is let me and your fellow listeners know what resonated with you about today’s episode. You can share your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the show notes. Or you can send them to me in an email to email@example.com.
I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and to act. So that you will find the joy God intends for you through your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.
While this concludes Season Three, I look forward to continuing to connect with each of you through my emails every Wednesday. They will be brief, unlike this episode, with some thoughts, ideas, or suggestions to help transform your relationships into the best they can be.
During this off season, I will be working on expanding the reach of the podcast to help more people of faith find more joy in their relationships. I’d appreciate any help you can give me, by forwarding the podcast onto others, subscribing to it yourself, and writing a review on iTunes.
And I’m certainly going to be working on the content and interviews for Season Four, which will start the Wednesday after Labor Day, September 9th. Please let me know any relationship topics you would like addressed, or the names of any people you’d like to have me interview.
Now for Our Relationship Quote of the Week
I’m going to go with something Maureen Kasdorf said near the end of our conversation.
Broken people have a lot to share.
That’s all for today. See you next week if you’ve signed up for my email list. Otherwise, I’ll be back in your life on September 9th when Season 4 begins. In either case, goodbye for now.