Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: Part 1 How to ask more helpful questions and get more helpful answers

We have all those moments when our thoughts spiral into negativity. Something bad happens to us, and our minds start raging with questions such as:

  • “Why won’t they just listen to me?”
  • “What’s wrong with me?”
  • “Who does he think he is?”

But just as the wrong questions can lead us down into a dark hole, the right questions can also lift us out and up towards brighter skies. Change your questions, and your mood and the possibilities you see will change with them. 

But how do we ask better questions? I have found three techniques that have helped me switch from a judger to an optimist mindset, which I will share with you here: 

1. Replace Why? with What/How?

We often start our questions with “Why…?”. But I believe we should be very careful with this word, because leading a question with “Why?” will often get you to: 

  • Look back to the past instead of looking forward to the future
  • Focus on what’s wrong instead of what you can do about it

In fact, if you start listing negative questions you will find that most of them start with this seemingly innocent word “Why?”:

    • Why does my son/wife/friend have to be so difficult?
    • Why do these things always happen to me?
    • Why can’t I do anything right?
    • Why bother?

In contrast, questions that start with “What?” or “How?” will often lead you to look forward to the future and to focus on solutions: 

  • What does my mother/husband/friend need from me?
  • How can I turn this situation around?
  • What’s possible?
  • How is this setback actually positive?

Of course, there are many positive questions that start with “Why?”. The key is to be aware that Why-questions have a strong tendency to lead you to the past and to problems. By being aware of this fact, you can easier catch yourself when you slip into judger mode, and instead, switch to more positive questions by leading with “What?” and “How?”. 

2. Ask questions that use the words: Can, Right, Need 

If your question includes any of the words: “can”, “right”, or “need”, you are almost guaranteed to arrive at productive answers. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • What can I do about it?
  • How else can I think about this?
  • Why am I the right person for this job? 
  • What must be true for this decision to turn out right?
  • What do I need?
  • What does the other person need from me?

“Can” makes you focus on what is in your power to change.

“Right” nudges you into a positive frame of mind. 

“Need” helps you be more empathic and pinpoint any missing elements. 

Notice that one of these questions – “Why am I the right person for this job?” – started with “Why?”. That is the power of these three words. Including “can”, “right”, or “need” can transform your question from a negative anchor into a productive springboard. 

3. Ask “Who…?” and follow with “help”

Our network of friends, family, and acquaintances is the most valuable resource we have. And giving and receiving help is what makes this network stronger. That is why I believe we should ask more questions that start with “Who?”, and that follow with the word: “help”. For example:

  • Who can help me with this? 
  • Who needs my help
  • Whom can I help today? 

The next time you catch yourself spiraling into the negativity loop, you can use these three techniques as tools to switch your mood. These three practices have helped me ask more helpful questions in my own life, and I hope they can do the same for you!

Listening to Others: Part 6 Three tips that will make you love listening to others

In this Listening to Others series, I’ve shared multiple strategies for how you can be a better listener. But none of these techniques will work unless you first have accomplished one thing: 

You must want to be a good listener. 

When you decide that making others feel heard is a part of who you are – a huge shift in your behavior occurs. You feel excited when someone starts sharing a story with you. You don’t feel any rush to jump in with solutions to problems. And you relish in letting someone talk on and on about themselves. Here are my three best tips for making listening to others a personal passion. 

Tip #1: Ask a good question, shut up, and then probe further

I was dining with a college friend when I asked him: “So what are your plans after graduation?”. He began sharing how he felt torn between pursuing a liberal arts degree or moving to Germany to study engineering. After talking for 20 min straight, I responded: 

“Wow, it sounds like you are in a tough spot deciding what to do. You seem really passionate about arts but are unsure of whether it will be a sustainable career. Is that right?”

This one remark made him feel that I had heard him. Knowing that I would keep listening, he began talking about combining arts and engineering by going into product design. Another 30 min passed where he just talked and I just listened. When he eventually came to close, I said: 

“It sounds like you have really thought through this product design idea a lot. It seems to be a good middle ground for both your passions. So what’s holding you back?”

…and another 30 min session ensued. We eventually ended up talking for 2 hours straight. Well actually, it was 2 hours of him talking and me listening. I probably talked for less than 2 minutes. When we finished, he gave me a long hug and said how much my listening had meant to thim. It was one of the most meaningful conversations I’ve ever had. 

Ask a meaningful question, shut up, and then probe further has been my go-to strategy ever since. 

Tip #2: Do the “Get the other person to talk as much as possible” challenge

When you try to get someone to talk as much as possible, you need to figure out what the other person wants to talk about. You can’t settle with “Isn’t it nice weather today?” conversations. You have to find something the other person could talk with you for hours and still not be done. 

You can’t listen unless the other is talking. If you are someone who likes to challenge yourself, embracing this challenge will encourage you to 1) find better conversation topics and 2) shut up and listen once you strike gold. 

Tip #3: Think “I love listening to others” every time someone talks with you

If you repeat something to yourself enough times you eventually start to believe it. Listening is no different. If you want to be a good listener but finds it challenging to “get in the zone”, repeat the thoughts: 

“I love listening to others”
“I feel alive when I give others space to share”
I am proud of being someone who makes others feel heard”

With enough repetition, you will soon start craving to listen to others. 

Summary of key points

I hope you have found this Listening to Others series insightful. Here is a quick summary of the five main takeaways from this series: 

  1. To listen you must suspend your own needs. You can’t make someone feel heard unless you show you understand the situation from their eyes. 
  2. Ask yourself: “Why would they say that?”.  The criticizing comment “We never go out” might actually mean “I love you and I don’t feel we spend enough quality time together”. 
  3. The other person is always right. People always make decisions that make perfect sense to them. If they seem irrational to you, it’s only because you don’t see what they see.
  4. Ask the other person: “Why do you think that way?”. This will invite them to explain their thinking so you can attack the issue together. 
  5. Always validate others’ emotions. Listen to what they are feeling and let them know that they are perfectly ok in feeling that way. 

Let’s go out there and be the best listeners we can be – not for ourselves, but for the people we love.

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