Sunday, April 26, 2015

                TO ASK OR NOT TO ASK: THAT IS THE QUESTION


     I was brought up to be interested in other people. My father taught me that we can learn from every person we meet whether it’s how to be, how not to be or simply to understand how people view their world. Asking questions is one of the most obvious ways to not only learn about people but also to show that you are interested in them. 

     I have learned, however, that there is a fine line between showing your interest and appearing nosy or intrusive. Some people will openly share attitudes and feelings, while others will respond with an oblique answer. Some won’t answer at all. Some people don’t want to reveal themselves, and some don’t know themselves well enough to discuss personal topics.

     The question of questioning is a frequent topic at the old homestead. If Mr. Wonderful goes out for lunch with a friend or hangs out after tennis at the courts, I am likely to ask, “What’s going on with so and so?” or “What did you learn?” Sometimes he will say “Nothing.” This is not unusual, as men don’t stand around after their matches discussing their feelings. On the contrary, when I come back from coffee or lunch with a friend, I always have something to share that I’ve learned about or from my friend. 

    Consider these questions:  What do you know about your closest friends? What do they know about you? If you know their life story, but they can’t tell you the names of your children, then perhaps your friendship is only one-sided. If you are doing all the listening, that’s a pretty good indicator. Some people talk about their aches and pains, so maybe you don’t want to ask the question that invites the “poor me, I’m hurting” tirade. Some people tell you stories about people you don’t know and never will. So you don’t want to ask a question while they’re rattling on about these people. In the extreme case where you are the recipient of someone’s deep, dark secrets, there is a definite risk that the person will never speak to you again because they’ve shared too much.That has happened to me at least three or four times, and once only a few weeks ago. Be careful how long you listen and watch out for the “don’t ever tell anybody this” red flag. 

     Bottom line: To me, friendship and cordial acquaintances imply sharing. The best way to share is to ask questions and listen to the answers. This is, however, a two-way conversation--not an invitation to a soliloquy. When I leave a conversation feeling stimulated by it, I know there has been an equal amount of sharing without effort.

     Most people want others to be interested in them. I believe this. Some are dying to share, while others only wish to reveal the superficial layers. There’s no right or wrong. I have learned to gage with the people I meet for the first time what they are willing to share based on the initial questions I might ask. If they appear reluctant to share, I keep my questions generic; whereas, if I think I can learn something from them because they seem eager to share, then I forge ahead and learn all I can. I’ve found that technology can be a big help in this arena. I have some good friends whom I rarely see, but we share on email. Those who mean the most to me, however, are those who will find time to meet one-on-one and share the foibles and follies of our lives. This requires the most important question:  “Are you free for coffee this week?”


     What do you think? With whom do you share? Do you ask questions? Do you like it when people ask you questions? When you ask the question, "How are you?" do you really want to know and listen to the answer?