Growing up, I used to get very upset with my mom because every time we’d get in the car as a family, she and my dad would fight over his driving. She was constantly telling him how to drive and worrying that we would get into an accident at some point on the trip. Her high degree of anxiety, especially in the car, put a wedge between her and me because I found that anxiety difficult to be around.
Fast forward to my early 30s. One night, as I sat with my mom drinking a late-night cup of tea, I got curious and asked her a question, a question that would change our relationship forever.
As I watched my mom quietly and peacefully sip at her steaming drink, I asked, “Mom, when you think back on your life, if there was one thing you would change, what would it be?” A very somber look came over her face; she stared at the tea and then at me. “I would have forced Tom Burns to go home.”
She then went on to tell me the story of her first date with Tom Burns. She was 16, and he was 17; and both attended Jamaica High in Queens, New York. Since Tom had his license, he picked her up at her house, and they went to the local cinema to watch the movie “Tea and Sympathy.” After the film, Tom drove my mom home and walked her to her door, where he was greeted by my mom’s mom, Big Grandma. Big Grandma insisted that Tom come into the house for some cake and coffee but my mom tried to spare Tom the inconvenience. Big Grandma would not be deterred, causing her to rarely lose an argument. About two hours later, Tom headed home, and my mom went up to bed.
The following morning, as my mom walked to school, she saw some police activity ahead. Approaching the scene, she saw Tom’s car had been totaled, and about 50 feet from the wreck was a body covered with newspapers. It was Tom. He had been killed by a hit-and-run on his way home from her house.
“If I’d only forced Tom to go home earlier, he’d still be alive today,” she said, admitting to taking on the burden of blame for all these years. At that moment, all the pieces started to click and my mom’s anxiety while driving in the car, and her fears about death and dying, all began to make sense. I went on to ask even more questions about her childhood and learned about many more challenges she’d lived through that had a significant impact on who she’d become as an adult. That night, over steaming camomille at the kitchen table, my relationship with my mom changed forever. We grew so much closer and my respect for her grew exponentially, all because I got curious and asked one good question.
Think of a few relationships you have in your personal and professional lives. How can you use the skill of asking great questions to deepen and strengthen those relationships?
Here are 3 things to think about when crafting questions that deepen relationships:
- Genuine Curiosity: In the words of the great Walt Whitman, “Be curious, not judgmental.” Greet each customer/client as a mystery to be explored. Assume nothing and question everything. Inquire about their interests and experiences within the context of the conversation. Tailoring your questions to their specific background or the purpose of the relationship can help foster a deeper connection.
- Openness: Craft questions that encourage open and honest communication. Avoid leading questions or those that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, ask open-ended questions that invite the other person to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences more fully.
- Empathy: Show genuine interest in the other person’s perspective and feelings. Empathetic questions demonstrate that you care about their well-being and are willing to listen and understand. Ask questions that allow them to express their emotions and concerns and be a compassionate listener in response.
Use more intentional question-asking in your conversations and watch your relationships deepen and strengthen faster than ever imagined.