I love questions. Good questions. In the interest of building relationships, I am trying to learn to quit talking and ask good questions of people.
I’ve had some mentors along this line, like cousin Ruth. She comes armed to all family gatherings with a list of things she would be interested in knowing about us, and she inquires. We can count on her to get conversation going, and not just about superficial topics. I feel honored when she makes sure I get a chance to think on and answer her questions. She listens, maybe asks more questions, and she remembers. Ruth has built relationships with many of us based on wanting to know, inquiring and listening. How rare.
Sometimes I go from year to year, in my relationships with my adult children, thinking that I know them already. After all, I lived with them from their birth and was around when they became themselves. Who should know them better? But no. They have now lived more years apart from me than with me, and nobody, nobody tells Mommy everything. My history with my children does give me some advantage, but I realize that I don’t know everything about them, and some good, respectful questions can add to our relationship.
“What is one thing about yourself, that you wouldn’t mind telling me, that you’re pretty sure I don’t know?” I consider asking this question, and almost feel like it takes a bit of courage to ask it. It’s then I realize that my children are their own persons, not a known extension of me or my own thinking. I might be surprised by their answer, and that’s okay.
My relationship with my own mother has deepened through inquiry – not my own but that of a “do-it-yourself memoir”. She doesn’t like to write, so I write down her answers for her in this small, hard bound book. They aren’t all relevant questions but the ones she does answer provide details about her life and who she is that I would not have discovered any other way. Lots of our history and even our thoughts and philosophies, don’t come out in common, everyday living. I get a more complete picture of who Mom is through questions.
Actually, inquiry, is at the heart of most of my in-person visits to my children. I hope when I come that they feel my desire to know them better. I want to see with my own eyes what life is like for them, how they respond to the people in their lives, their work, their pressures, their joys and sorrows. I don’t want to “snoop”, I want to see what they don’t mind showing me, for the purpose of loving, supporting and building relationship.
Can you think of a really interesting, respectful question that you would like to ask in a relationship building encounter? Share it please!
I have to add this. I listen to a lot of podcasts and interviews and one of my pet peeves is the phrase “that is such a good question” given after every question, whether it is a good one or not. Just answer the question, okay? We’ll decide if it was good.