People Tell You the Question They Want to be Asked
This is a lesson Elaine Ezekiel of Atomic Object learned during her time as a journalist. Of course, that’s easy to say when you aren’t sitting across from someone listening to them while simultaneously formulating a response.
But as Elaine points out, we’re not actively listening when we do this.
“Active listening is being fully present in your own curiosity.”
Too often we think that our responsibility as a listener is to make sure we have a slam dunk of a response or a follow-up question. But the truth is, our only job is to be curious. When we’re curious, we give ourselves the freedom to explore and dive into the topic. And we also allow ourselves to overcome the self-consciousness that holds us back from asking follow-up questions.
“People are begging us to ask them questions that our self-conscious prevent us from asking.”
Something that really stands out from the conversation with Elaine is how she explained her role as a journalist and how this helped her overcome her self-consciousness. Even if she was uncomfortable asking the follow-up question, she knew her audience wanted to know the answer, so it was her duty to ask the question.
“If you have an audience, then it’s your duty to ask the follow-up question.”
This is an interesting concept that we can all try to utilize when we’re engaging in conversation and find ourselves doubting whether we should ask a curious follow-up question - to imagine it’s our duty to report back to an audience about this amazing, interesting individual who shared the time and energy with us. And when we put the conversation into this context, we’d be doing our audience disservice.
Another fascinating lesson is the fact that curiosity allows you to hear the questions the person wants you to ask.
“People tell you the next question they want to be asked.”
Elaine touches on this as a lesson she learned from reviewing audio recordings of interviews. Over and over again, she’d find that the interviewee would lay “breadcrumbs” to guide Elaine to ask the next follow-up question, but she never did. But instead of beating herself up about not asking the follow-up question, she realized why - it was because she was so focused on what she thought she should ask instead of listening for the question; she didn’t embrace her curiosity.
She also realized that this led her to ask questions that disrupted the flow of the conversation - to make sure there isn’t any silence in the conversation.
“Sometimes the best follow-up question is silence.”
This seems so obvious when you hear it, but because we’ve grown to believe that silence in a conversation is awkward so the easy way out is to ask another question to prevent the silence. But the fact of the matter is, we all need time to think through the things we want to say and how we say it, so giving an individual the space and time to formulate their thoughts do lead to incredible insight. Yes, it’s going to be awkward, but the depth of the conversation to come after the awkward silence is worth it.
“Have the discipline to sit through the silence and something powerful usually comes out of it.”
Follow-up questions are an important part of having meaningful conversations as they keep the conversation moving forward and allow for clarification and elaboration of details. But what I learned from Elaine is that our job isn’t to ask the follow-up question; it is to embrace our curiosity.
By doing so, we’re able to listen for the questions to be asked that allow us to get past the surface level and build genuine connection.
Engagement of the Day
For your next conversation, listen for the question the individual wants you to ask them. Listen for statements or feelings to guide you towards identifying the question to be asked.
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