Reading Notes: The Power of Conversation Chap 1

Most of them are book excerpts, and a small part is personal insights.

Chap 1 Promoting Conversation through Questioning#

Everyone can ask questions, but not everyone knows how to ask questions that can effectively promote conversation. When your questions do not elicit a positive response:
It may not be because the other person is unfriendly, uninterested in you, or your question is inappropriate.
It is likely because of the type of question asked or the organization of the language used when asking.

Types of Questions#

Questions can be divided into two types: closed-ended questions and open-ended questions.

Closed-ended Questions#

Closed-ended questions are similar to true/false or multiple-choice questions. The answers only require one or two words.

  • Where are you from?
  • Do you run often?
  • When are we going to have dinner tonight?

Closed-ended questions can provide the questioner with certain information from the respondent. However, if only closed-ended questions are used, the conversation can become dull and lead to awkward silence.

Chatting like a census, I guess, is dominated by closed-ended questions.

Open-ended Questions#

To keep the conversation going and add depth and interest, open-ended questions should be asked after closed-ended questions.

Open-ended questions are like essay questions that cannot be answered with just one or two words.
For example:

  • How does the climate in your hometown compare to here?
  • What do you think is the biggest benefit of running for you?

Some people may answer closed-ended questions in an open-ended manner. Nevertheless, the person you are talking to still prefers to give longer answers when responding to open-ended questions because these questions encourage them to speak freely. When you ask open-ended questions, others will feel relaxed because they know you want them to participate and fully express their thoughts.

Enhancing Control over Topics#

There is no need to endure boring conversations because when you ask questions, you largely control the choice of topics.

(Extracting topics from the other person's words)

Suppose a friend tells you, "I just came back from France." Based on your preferences, you can choose your question from the following examples:

  • "How is the climate there?"
  • "How did you manage to communicate with the French people?"
  • "Tell me the most unforgettable thing."
  • "How did you book your hotel room?"
  • "What are some differences between French food and ours?"

If someone introduces themselves to you as a high school counselor, you can choose from the following questions:

  • "Why did you choose to become a counselor?"
  • "What qualifications are required for this job?"
  • "Tell me some common problems that children often seek your help with."
  • "What is the situation of drug use on campus today?"
  • "How does listening to others' troubles every day affect your attitude towards life?"

Alternatively, if you don't want to talk about their work, you can also ask some general questions, such as "What leisure activities do you have after work?"

When asking questions, maintain a willingness to listen. No matter how good you are at communication, if you are only going through the motions, the other person will eventually feel that you are just trying to make them like you.

Try to maintain a dual perspective. Consider not only what you want to hear and say, but also the needs of the other person. The most annoying thing is to disregard others' thoughts and needs.

Common Misconceptions#

Avoid overly broad questions#

Case: Migi is the wife of a university administrator, Mel. Recently, in a class in New York, she said she was bored with life.

Why? Migi said, "Because all day long, the only company I have is two children: one is three years old, and the other is a baby. So when Mel comes back, I ask, 'How was your day?' I really want to hear his answer. But what does he say? 'Nothing, just the same as usual.' Then he turns on the TV."

1. Her question is too broad.
Asking questions is like turning on a faucet. The wider the range, the more responses you will get—until the ultimate limit.
Migi's broad questions (like "What's new?" "What have you been busy with lately?" "Tell me about yourself!") often require a lot of energy and time to answer, so most people choose to give up.
2. The question itself is casual
"How was your day?" sounds more like a cliché, something said without much thought, rather than a genuine desire to know what happened. The answers are often clichés, such as "Good!" or "Okay."

In the end, Migi asks the same question every day. This not only makes the other person more convinced that it's just a cliché, but also makes them answer the same uncreative question every day, which may make her husband bored.

Read the school and local newspapers every day, and then, after giving her husband a moment to rest, ask specific open-ended questions about topics he is familiar with.

Here are her results: That night, I told Mel that I heard the school is going to revise the foreign language requirements for liberal arts students. I asked him what he thought about it. Then we started discussing whether learning a foreign language helps students better understand other cultures. We also talked about our own experiences of learning foreign languages. As a result, we started speaking in broken French that we learned in high school and had a great time. In the end, we were both tired but happy. He kissed me and whispered, "You're amazing!" Isn't this a very successful attempt?

The first question should not be too difficult#

Real estate developer Kennedy's trick: When a customer walks in, I don't ask them what they need. That question is too difficult, and they might give up because of nervousness. If I press too hard for an answer, they might leave immediately.

Therefore, I ask them where they currently live. This question makes them feel relaxed and natural. After a while, either they or I will shift the conversation to their needs.

Start with simple questions and discuss topics that the other person is interested in and familiar with

Try to avoid leading questions#

Leading questions can be the most closed-ended questions, often requiring only the other person's agreement.

  • "It's already 8:30. Is it okay to stay at home tonight?"
  • "You don't think they are right, do you?"
  • "Watching two hours of TV every night is enough, don't you think?"

Don't refute before asking a question#

When the other person's viewpoint differs from yours and you want to discuss the differences, express your disagreement after asking about their reasons.

Case: I once met someone in Pennsylvania who told me that his biggest hobby is hunting. I don't like hunting, but instead of saying it out loud, I asked him in an inquisitive tone, "What do you think is the biggest benefit of hunting?" From the conversation, I learned that he experiences great challenges in hunting, and he believes that hunters like him play an important role in the ecological cycle.

Actively seek out question topics#

If there is an opportunity, prepare some questions in advance, which will make it much easier than relying solely on improvisation.

Case 1:
Here is a story written by Wayne, the manager of an ice cream company in Los Angeles, to me: On Friday, I took a young man named Curtis to attend the annual Eagle Scout welcome banquet. Last year's banquet was a failure—we just sat there eating. So this year, I prepared in advance. I imagined myself as a scout and thought about what kind of questions others would ask me—how hard I worked to earn various badges, what jokes I made or heard, what kind of bridge I built and how I built it, how my first hike went, how my relationship with Girl Scouts was, and so on. It worked! We had a great conversation and didn't want to stop. So this year, not only did I not leave the venue early, but I also took Curtis out for a drink.

Case 2:
In the past, when making phone calls, especially when talking to my dad in Panama, I often forgot to mention important things or asked urgent questions. So I often felt ashamed and either called back or completely forgot about it. Recently, I started writing a checklist. Now I can completely relax because I won't hang up the phone until everything on the checklist is discussed.

In addition, remembering some backup questions consciously is also practical and interesting, and they can effectively break the awkward situation at any time. For example:

  • "If you could be a historical figure, who would you choose? (The other person answers.) Why?"
  • "Who is the most memorable teacher for you? Why?"
  • "If you had to choose another industry (or major), how would you choose? (The other person answers.) Why?"
  • "If you could spend a week anywhere on Earth, where would you choose? What would you do?"

One last thing to note is that when you first start learning to ask open-ended questions, it takes effort. However, like walking and writing skills, after a while, it will become natural to you.

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