The Power of the QuestionRead Now
Something interesting that I have noticed over many years of doing therapy and coaching is that, at times, a theme emerges in your work. Several clients will come to me with similar challenges in a short period of time, and this really has me pay attention to this issue. Sometimes a theme emerges in your life as well, with friends or with people with whom you speak. When I consider someone’s well-being, I think about their physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being, and a recent theme I have encountered is related to social well-being.
Two friends have recently come to me discussing how a friend or relative does not ask them questions. One woman, “Sue”, started running with a neighbor during the pandemic. She was excited to have someone to hold her accountable, and she also thought it would be a really nice way to develop a friendship as they would have blocks of time to chat. Sue talked to me about how, while she had been excited initially to run with her new friend, she was noticing that she felt frustrated when she got home. She realized that her friend almost never asked her a question. Sue would ask her friend about how she was, how her weekend was, how the kids were doing, etc. Her friend never seemed to reciprocate, and this left Sue feeling that her friend was not interested in getting to know her or curious about who she was. Sue tried joking about this at one time to get her friend to ask how she was doing, but Sue’s friend did not ask more questions.
Another friend, “Bob”, talked to me about how his sister seemed very self-focused and almost never asked him questions. When they talked, she would tell him all about her job, her relationship, her upcoming plans; however, she did not ask him about his life. He felt annoyed and frustrated, and he noticed himself pulling back and having less time for her.
Sometimes when I was dating in the past, I would come home and realize, “My date didn’t ask me a single question the whole night!” That led me to feel that he had no interest in getting to know me- and it left me with no desire for a second date. One of the important ways I knew that my now-husband was someone I wanted to see a second time was that, on our first date, he asked me many questions and seemed interested in what I had to say. I loved this, and it was so refreshing for me, after so many solipsistic dates.
I think about tennis when I think about conversations. In a good conversation, there is a nice back-and-forth over the net. Both individuals share and ask questions, and they add to the conversation as it builds. On the other hand, when someone does not ask their conversational partner questions, it can feel like you are a just hitting balls against a tennis practice wall. You are putting all this effort in, and the wall just sits there. This one-sided conversation feels like it does not matter if you are there or not, and it feels like your partner really does not care about you or want to know you better.
I find trying to address this problem difficult, as this is something that that is very hard to change in someone. If your partner is someone that you trust and feel you can speak honestly with, you can carefully try to bring this up. You can let them know that it feels like they rarely ask you questions and explain how this feels to you. However, this is quite delicate and can only be done with someone who is open to feedback and willing to change. I find the other options tend to be to decide to accept the person as-is or to pull back some. In the most extreme cases, where you are engaging with someone who has proven time and again that they are not interested in asking questions and trying to know you, it might even make sense to think about ending the relationship if that is possible or desired.
Having been a therapist and coach for many years, I understand the power of the question. Questions show your conversation partner that you care, that you are listening, and that you want to know more about them. The right question can bring greater understanding or clarity for a person. And a good question can always provoke thought and richer conversation. In an intimate relationship, when both people ask questions and share in a mutually vulnerable way, this can really bring you both closer, and it is a foundation for a good friendship. And when interest and curiosity are not there, a relationship cannot really go deeper.
So I want to end with a couple questions for you: Have you experienced something like this in your life? And, if so, what did you decide to do?