The One Skill You Need to Develop to Build Stronger Relationships
Most people stop doing this when they feel like they know someone well. They shouldn’t.
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What are the most underrated relationship skills, and how can we develop them? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Well, this will come as no surprise by now, but I would point to the willingness/ability to ask questions of the other person, and you can't do that well unless you also are a good listener.
On the most basic level, questions help us to understand, and empathize with, other people. When you ask someone else a question, you are showing interest and providing an opportunity for that person to share thoughts, feelings, stories. The better the question, the more it invites sharing.
When we're close to people and know them well (spouse, family, business partner, lifelong friend), we tend not to ask them questions. A powerful change can occur in these relationships when we shift away from advising, criticizing, opining--and more in the direction of asking and listening. That shift to 'asking mode' can even transform adversarial relationships--the kind that are tearing much of our society apart these days, at town halls and holiday dinners.
The challenge is to reach out with questions that open avenues for conversation, rather than provoke yelling. To quote the radio interviewer and expert questioner Krista Tippett: "It's hard to transcend a combative question. But it's hard to resist a generous question. We all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation."
So if you're trying to strengthen your relationships, focus on being curious about the other person. Don't just ask rote questions like "how are you?" -- ask them what challenges they're dealing with. Instead of telling them what you think they should do, ask them what they think they should do; use questions to help people think through their own problems. All of this easy to do once you get in the habit, but you have to do two difficult things: Be willing to stop focusing on and talking about yourself, and be willing to listen to what the other person has to say.
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