Even if we see someone frequently and talk with them often, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we truly grasp what makes them tick. We may believe we know where our spouse enjoys going on holiday, our BFF’s favorite band, or our son’s go-to video game. And perhaps we do.
However, we may still be clueless about what makes that other person happy, afraid, angry, or motivated. Wouldn’t you like to be more familiar with your loved one’s answers to such significant issues?
In addition, for those of us who might struggle with anxiety now and then (ahem), it might help to know that focusing on someone else and learning more about them can temporarily get your mind off yourself – which can lower your stress level. Try listening closely to your partner to get your thoughts off your troubles.
Often in a relationship of any kind, be it romantic, a friendship, or with a colleague, there is one person who talks more than the other person. Taking turns asking some of the questions below can help to balance your relationship, strengthen your connections, and to show them that you really want to know more about them.
First, the somewhat milder or more innocuous questions:
- What do you do to recharge your energy or enthusiasm?
- What was the highlight of your day?
- What fictional character (from a book, show, or movie) do you feel you’re most similar to?
- If you suddenly had three days to do whatever you want, without regard to finances, what would you do with that time?
- Who was your favorite teacher and why?
- Where are some unusual places you’ve been?
- What have you learned most from your job/jobs?
- What hobby would you pick up if time and money weren’t issues?
- Are you a “planner” or do you prefer to wing it?
- What do you wish you knew more about?
- Who do you think has had the largest influence on the person you are today?
- What’s your favorite way to start the day?
- If all jobs had the same pay and hours, what job would you like to have?
- What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
With people you know (or think you know) better, you could also delve into the following areas:
- What happened today that motivated you to keep going?
- What experiences in your life have made you a stronger person?
- What occupies your mind most of the time?
- How do you judge a person?
- What personality trait do you value most and which one do you dislike the most?
- What do you need help with the most often?
- What problem are you currently struggling with?
- Which of your bad habits would be the hardest for you to give up?
- What would it take for you to be more ready to give up that habit?
- What positive habit do you have now that you wish you had started earlier?
- What prompted you to pick up that positive habit?
- When did something begin badly for you but then turned out for the best?
- If you had one day left to live, what would you do first?
- What do you wish I knew about you that I haven’t asked?
Be alert to verbal and non-verbal feedback from the other person, and if they seem hesitant about responding, don’t be pushy, of course. You could offer some of your own answers, without dominating the conversation. Take turns talking, with the listener not interrupting. This is actually a technique used in couples counseling, if one or both people feel unheard and experience the other person as more invested in their next retort than hearing the other person. Sometimes a timer for three or five minutes is even used – but clearly it’s not always necessary to be this “formal” about the process.
The idea is to give each person space to “take center stage” and feel accepted and seen, without being afraid that they’re going to be talked over or dismissed. The listener can make short empathic comments such as “How frustrating that must have been for you” or “They sound like an inspiring person” without moving the focus onto themselves.
Showing genuine curiosity and interest in someone else, with unconditional acceptance, is one of the most precious gifts you can give. Try it.