It’s often better to share an observation than to ask a question. It deepens a relationship by allowing people to open up on their terms.

Hello everyone and welcome to episode 99. We are just one episode away from turning over our podcast odometer to 100 episodes. I’ve got a special program planned for next week with an interesting guest lined up to join us.

But for today, as we say good-bye to double-digit episode numbers, I’ve got something for those of you who want deeper relationships with people, BUT who feel uncomfortable asking questions of others. For new listeners to the podcast, we’ve been talking in recent episodes about asking questions to deepen our relationships with people.

Before we get into this though, I want to share a few responses I received from listeners to a question I raised a few weeks ago. Namely, “What else do you do when you listen to podcasts?” Podcasts are great to listen to while doing something else, and I thought our listeners would be interested in know what that “something else” is for each of us.

Listener responses

A listener from England wrote,
“Two things for me: peeling or chopping vegetables at the kitchen table or (most preferred) having a good cup of Yorkshire tea and just listening as I enjoy. (Now those two things go together well!)”

A missionary from the Balkan countries of Eastern Europe said:
“I follow about 6-8 podcasts regularly and usually listen when I am at home alone (or when my children are sleeping) and I am cleaning the house, cooking, or folding laundry. Makes a sort of boring, mundane chore quite enjoyable for me!”

Finally, Linda, a retired missionary and listener from North Carolina wrote:
“Hello John, Sometimes I exercise on my indoor exercise bike while listening to the [your] podcast while other times I go outside and take a walk. Other times I ‘set you’ on the kitchen counter to listen while I fix breakfast. You seem to show up in different ways!”

Thank you for those responses. I’d love to hear from more of you as to what you typically do while listening to podcasts.

Now on to today’s show. It’s a solution for those of us who would like to go deeper in our relationships with people, but without relying just on asking questions to get there. So keep listening.

Caution with asking questions

As much as we’ve talked about the power of asking questions, there are a few caveats to this skill.

It goes without saying that questions to deepen a relationship do not evoke one-word answers. Yes or no. it also goes without saying that in some cultures around the world, asking questions of each other is offensive. So be careful.

Questions asked too quickly, and too often, can put the other person on the defensive and back them into a corner. So slow down. Some people need time to process a question they’re asked. Allow for periods of silence.

Questions, when used improperly, can be a form of control. They can take people where they don’t want to go, and you end up alienating people from yourself.

We sometimes ask questions when we are really making a statement. Avoid doing this. It’s not being honest and can come across as being controlling. So instead of asking, “Aren’t you going to take the garbage out tonight,” say instead, “please take the garbage out tonight.”

Rather than asking a question, try this instead

Instead of asking a question, share an observation. An observation is a deeper form of engagement than a question.

This is the O – Observe, in O.R.A. Observe-Remember-Ask

It’s a big picture skill. More difficult, in my opinion, than the other two elements of ORA. More difficult than Remember or Ask

How do you make an observation?

Act as a mirror. Mirrors reflect reality

Reflect back emotions you see in the other person: “You seem upset today.”

Reflect back themes and patterns you observe: “I noticed that whenever I ask you about where you are from, your eyes light up”

“It seems to me like … “you’ve got something on your mind that is troubling you.”

Share reflective statements, “I wonder statements.” : “I wonder what it must be like to always feel you have to defend yourself.”

A real-life example

The time Janet shared an observation when she said, “I don’t think you’re spending enough time with the kids.” She could have asked a question instead, “Why don’t you spend more time with the kids?” or “When are you going to spend more time with the kids?” The observation she shared was much more powerful. It wasn’t a job, a directive, an order. It wasn’t even a request.

It can be very affirming and encouraging to hear the observations of another person. Where all too close to what is going on in our life.

“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.”~ John Steinbeck

So what does all this mean for YOU?

How can you use what you’ve heard today to improve the relationships in YOUR life? Here are a few ideas:

Instead of asking: share an observation instead:

“Why are you angry,” becomes  “You seem angry.”

Instead of “When are you going to clean your office?, instead say, I’ve noticed the clutter in your office has reappeared.

Rather than “Who were you talking to on the phone? “, try sharing an observation, You seemed pretty animated when you were on that phone call.

“Why are you so sad today? ” would be better put, You look sad to me.

“What are you worried about?” can be better stated,  It seems to me like you’re troubled about something. I wonder what it is.

Instead of asking, “What are you so happy about?” share an observation like this, You sure seem in a good mood today.

Use doorknob observations with people who are better at words than you are. “I wonder statements are good for this.”

If you forget everything else, here’s the one thing I hope you remember from today’s episode.

Experiment with turning your questions into observations. Act as a mirror in the important relationships in your life. See how much deeper your interactions go when you make an observation, rather than when you ask a question.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. I’d like to hear how trying out this new relational skill goes for you. You can email me at I may share them in a future episode unless you say otherwise. You can also share your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the show notes.


In closing, if you found the podcast helpful, please subscribe if you haven’t already done so. You can also help us to serve more people when you leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.

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.

Well, that’s all for today. I look forward to connecting with you again next week. Goodbye for now.

You Were Made for This is sponsored by Caring for Others, a missionary care ministry. We depend upon the generosity of donors to pay our bills.  If you'd like to support what we do with a secure tax-deductible donation, please click here. We'd be so grateful if you did.

Related episodes you may want to check out:

092: 3 Benefits to Being a Keen Observer of People

090: Encourage Ourself by Observing Others

089: How to Be a Better Observer of People