Asking follow-up questions is a key part of one of the greatest gifts we give someone. The gift of listening. Learn how in today's episode.
In recent episodes we’ve considered how our lack of curiosity about people keeps our relationships at a surface level. To go deeper in our relationships our curiosity deficiency can be cured with a simple vaccine: Ask – people – questions. We talked in the last few episodes about WHY we don’t ask more questions, and one explanation is that we don’t know how.
Last week’s show, no. 64, introduced the first of the two most effective questions we can ever ask in deepening our relationship with people. That question is a question we ask ourselves, which goes like this: “From what I know of the other person, what might it be like to be them?” When we ask this question, in essence trying to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, other questions will naturally arise organically from within us we can ask. We went over that pretty thoroughly in last week’s show.
In today’s episode we’re going to consider the only other question you’ll need to remember to deepen your relationship with someone. It’s the most important question you can ever ask someone. So if you’re taking notes, grab the smallest Post-it note you can find, because it’s a really short question. Go ahead, the rest of us will do a few stretching exercises while we we wait for you.
Alright, if everyone is ready to go, here’s the only other question you need to remember:
Ask a follow-up question.
Think about Jesus and the questions he asked. Many of them were follow-up questions. In Matthew 16:13-15 we read
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
That’s a great follow-up question, isn’t it? But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
A follow-up question can be a follow-up to something someone says, something you observed, or something you remembered. They are important contributors to our relationships with people. When our relationships are devoid of them, our connections with people will never be as deep as they could be.
This reminds me of a really awkward and painful moment in a Bible study Janet and I were in awhile back. One of the women in the group shared one night how depressed she was feeling because she and her husband were longing for a second child, but she was not getting pregnant. It really bothered her. After she shared this heartfelt concern, the response from the rest of us was silence. Nothing, and then someone changed the subject and brought up a completely different issue.
A follow-up question could have been something like, “How are you dealing with all this?” Or some follow-up statement like, “Oh, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this painful issue.” Instead there was just silence.
I’ve thought about that incident from a number of years ago and regret I didn’t say anything, and wondered why others didn’t either. Was it lack of practice in asking questions? Was it lack of curiosity? Self-absorption? Poor listening skills? Or was it we just didn’t know what to say?
All I can tell tell you, it was very hurtful for the woman who shared this deep longing in her life, and no one responded. We did not care well for her that night.
I suspect some of you have been in similar situations. The good news is that we can learn how to respond in situations like this. It’s part of developing our relationships skills that episodes 11 – 14 talk about. If you are a newer listeners to the podcast you might want to check those out. They are foundational to what we are doing. Here are links to them:
A great thing about asking follow-up questions is that it pulls you away from our default mode of thinking about ourselves and focussing on what we want to add to a conversation. By thinking intently about asking follow-up questions, we contribute to a conversation when we draw out others, rather then when add to the conversation with our own thoughts and experiences. Draw out, don’t add to.
Another benefit of asking follow-up questions is that If we remember to ask them we don’t have to remember anything else. It will become 2nd nature to us.
Follow-up questions benefit not only us, but the other person we’re listening to as well. Answering these questions often brings clarity in the other person’s thinking. Many times it’s far better than advice, which most people don’t heed any way.
So how do we get started in asking follow-up questions?
Start with what you observe and remember. Use your observation and memory to prime the pump of your thinking. What do see in the other person you could ask about? What do you remember from a prior conversation you could inquire concerning that conversation?
Follow-up questions are all about staying on one subject for as long as possible. The more times the topic of conversation changes, the less listening is going on. See how long you can stay on one subject by asking questions about that one subject. Here are two word pictures that might help
Asking follow-up questions is like peeling an orange. Some oranges peel easier than others. You have to take off the peel to get to the good stuff, and it takes removing multiple peels to get to what you really want.
Follow-up questions are like dancing a waltz. The other person leads, and you follow. Let the other person take you wherever they want to around the ballroom dance floor. As a good dance partner, and a good listener, you’ll bring out the best in them when you let them lead and you follow. It will bring out the best in you, too.
Examples of follow-up questions
What do you mean by that?
Don’t let your assumptions get in the way of asking a follow-up question. Ask the other person to define their terms, rather than assuming the way you define a term is the same way they do.
Sometimes how we define something may be quite different from what another person means.
You said your relationship with your mom is strained, what do you mean by “strained?”
[Trip to Turkey and missionary's angst over her son’s comment “I’ve had a significant spiritual awakening” story.]
Why did you like living in Pittsburgh when you were a kid?
Why was high school a hard time for you?
Why is it that you loved sports as a teenager, but now are not interested in them anymore?
Don Robins story, “I’d rather do a hundred funerals than one wedding.”
Can you give me an example of that?
“Before my husband got sick he did so many wonderful things for people.”
If you forget everything else, here’s the one thing I hope you remember from today’s episode. Our show in a sentence:
One of the greatest gifts we can ever give someone is the gift of listening. A big part of that gift is asking follow-up questions. They show you care.
Here’s what you can do in response to today’s show.
- Honor someone this week by asking him or her one or two follow-up questions. It’s a way to live out Romans 12:10, where we’re told to “take delight in honoring each other.”
- Make it your goal to get people to say to you, “Thank you for Asking.”
- Dance a waltz with someone, a listening waltz. They lead, you follow.
- This week, work on asking just two follow-up questions in a conversation you have with someone. It takes practice, and just think in terms of asking people
What do you mean by that?
Can you give me an example of that?
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.
Now for Our Relationship Quote of the Week
Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference
~ David Augsberger
That’s all for today. See you next week. Bye for now.