I've Figured Out The Secret To Asking Questions

April 16th, 2014, 5pm

It was -1°C with scattered clouds. The breeze was gentle.

Well, maybe not the “secret” exactly, but I’ve gotten way better at holding a conversation than I used to be. I’ve always been introverted, I think, although I have a very strange manic energy when I’m in social situations.

Over the last year I’ve been ignored a lot by people I was trying to get to know. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with me not really being interested enough in them, instead trying to look cool - or whatever. I still feel that everyone is on their phones way too often, but I like communicating via text and etc. so I’m not going to really hold that against people.

The last couple weeks, however, something kind of clicked inside me and I suddenly found myself engaging in more conversation in an hour than I had in a year. What changed? Personally, I’m not really sure, but I can say what I did that made a difference.

I started asking questions.

I also stopped asking questions.

I stopped asking people how they were because that never goes anywhere. You know how you pass someone in the hallways and you say, “Hey, how’s it going?” but you don’t really want to know how it’s going, you’re just making sounds with your mouth to acknowledge the presence of another person. They’re supposed to respond with, “good, you?” and move on, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they stand there staring at you waiting for you to tell them how you are and if you don’t, you’ve done something wrong. So annoying, right? So I stopped asking. I probably don’t really care how you’re doing, and even if I do (I usually do if I know you), knowing that you’re doing great isn’t really information I can do anything with. Instead I tried asking if they saw a friend over the weekend, or if they went somewhere, or how their family is doing. It’s basically the same question, I’m essentially learning how you are, but it sounds different. Because of that, people usually actually answer. Unless they just say no, or something, and keep walking… Okay that backfired.

Then I started having some fun.

“If you were an animal, what would you be? Not your favourite animal, we’ll get to that, but who are you?”

“What’s your dream city to live in?”

“Do you like internet relationships or do you prefer to meet someone in person?”

“What’s your favourite phone app?”

And so on.

The catch is, that you’re not allowed to talk about yourself unless they ask you something. Don’t start the conversation with, “I had such an amazing weekend, how about you?” because then how could they measure up? Don’t talk about something you find interesting until they ask, because they probably don’t care what you find interesting.

When I started doing this, people suddenly started talking to me. That’s never happened to me before. It was weird. I was caught off guard and had to ask them similar questions the next day just so I could remember what they said because it was just so foreign to me to have people talk about themselves so freely.

So I’ve decided that I’ve stumbled across the secret to having conversations. Someone once said, and I have no idea who so I won’t quote it, that you won’t be interesting to other people unless you find them interesting. From my “research” that seems to be true.

Now I’m trying to ask questions. I try think of bizarre things to ask about too. If they’re put off by it, so be it, but usually it leads to memorable conversations, and it makes you stand out. Fun! Right?

I think most of my generation could learn from this, which is why I’m writing it. I’m still very introverted and find my own thoughts so much louder than the world that it takes a lot of effort to get out of my head, and I usually can’t actually think of things to say, so I took the pressure off of me and just started asking questions. I don’t have to attempt to be clever, I can just let others do that, and when they ask me something, it’s easier for me to come up with an interesting response.

What about you? What techniques do you use to have better conversations? Do you feel the same way about talking to people, or do you prefer to make comments to open a conversation?

Lia said thanks.

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Samuel Rafuse

Journalist, culture and movie writer. Sometimes he says funny things. We're trying to make more of him but we lost the instructions. Website: samuelcharlesrafuse.wordpress.com

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