We’re all looking for the magic bullet, the secret words to make our spouse melt, our co-worker cooperate and our customer giggle with glee as they sign on the dotted line.
But after 20 years spent coaching executives and sales leaders, I’ve come to realize that the secret statement is rarely a statement. It’s a question.
One of the best ways to demonstrate interest is with questions. Nothing is more affirming or exciting than having someone take a sincere interest in you.
It’s ironic. We all know how wonderful it is to have someone ask about the things that are important to you. When someone asks good questions, we immediately engage, we feel comfortable and we share more information.
Yet when we want to get someone else interested in us, or try to persuade them to go along with our plans, we often take the opposite approach. We wind up talking more about ourselves than we do asking about them.
After observing hundreds of interpersonal interactions, I can tell you: The people who are the most well-liked, and the most successful at getting other people to buy into their ideas are the people who ask the best questions.
Good questions, the kind that truly connect us with others, are sincere and well-planned. They zero in on the other person’s goals and challenges.
The content of your questions is important and so is your tone. For example, “Where were you last night?” can be asked with accusation, interest, concern, or even boredom.
If you want to have a better relationship with someone, be it a family member or a colleague, get your heart in the right place, think of a few things that might be important to them, and try one of these 10 questions:
• What do you enjoy most about (insert important activity)?
Asking someone to describe the best part of their job, or parenting or a hobby or even just their day sets a positive tone and opens a window into their emotions.
• What’s the most challenging part of (something they spend a lot of time on)?
This demonstrates that you’re genuinely interested in what it’s like to live in their world.
• If you could change anything about (pressing situation), what would it be?
This helps you understand their goals and frustrations. Warning: ask this in a non-manipulative way. You’re not fishing; you’re interested.
• How is this (change, event or situation) affecting you?
Our tendency is to ask, “What do you think about this?” But if you ask how something is affecting a person, you get a much deeper, more meaningful response.
• When you look at X (challenge) and Y (other challenge), how do you prioritize?
This prompts inner reflection, which in turn gives you clues about the person’s thought process and what’s really important to them.
• How do YOU feel about this?
Some may roll their eyes at this one, but it works because it says that you care more about the person than whatever idea you’re discussing.
• What do you think is causing (situation that’s on their mind)?
This prompts them to think about root causes which will in turn create a more robust, meaningful dialogue about whatever it is.
• How can I best support you on (big project, goal or activity)?
This enables them to define what they really want, and it frees you up for the win of providing specific, requested help.
• What is your deepest fear about (something important to them)?
This allows them to share an area of vulnerability, which contrary to popular belief, most people actually like to do, as long as the listener makes it safe.
• What are your highest hopes for the future?
Whether the conversation is about their job, their church or their child, when someone shares their hopes with you, they’re opening up a piece of their heart. They’re telling you what really matters to them.
Your job as the listener is to treasure the information.
Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of “The Triangle of Truth,” which the Washington Post named as a “Top Five Book for Leaders.”