Communications skills exercises, part IX: statements instead of questions

December 2, 2011 by Joshua
in Blog, Education, Freedom, Tips

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

The principles

People like people who improve their lives and make conversations interesting. When you first meet someone you tell each other about yourselves in how and about what you talk. Sometimes when you take an interest in someone’s life or activities, you improve their lives. If people compliment you on your conversation skills, you probably do improve their lives by asking questions. Or if they are prompting you to ask questions, like talking about their kids or some other passion.

In my experience, when people first meet, the opposite happens more often. If you ask people what they do for a living, if they have brothers or sisters, where they’re from, or questions everybody asks all the time, you are probably boring them by having them repeat things they’ve said countless times before.

If you’ve ever felt like someone you didn’t know was giving you the third degree without contributing themselves, you know what I’m talking about.

In short, when you ask boring questions, you are asking them to provide the value in the conversation.

When I say this, people protest that by asking questions they’re taking an interest in other person, focusing on them. That’s why I said if people compliment you on your conversation skills you’re probably adding value. If they don’t, you probably aren’t.

If you hit a lull in a conversation first meeting someone and think to yourself something like “I know, I’ll ask them about …”, you should recognize how you are asking them to provide value. If you had something interesting to say, you would, but you don’t, so you hope something interesting about their life will come up.

I’m not saying asking questions is necessarily boring. But it often is.

You can do better. With a slight change of phrasing, you can make your conversations more interesting.

You can turn any question into a statement. Doing so makes the conversation more interesting. It often motivates the other person to share things they wouldn’t have otherwise.

The exercise

The exercise is to turn questions into statements. When you are in a conversation and find yourself about to ask one of the questions below, form a statement instead. If you’re thinking about their work, say something related to their work.

  • “So what do you do?” becomes “I bet I can tell what field you work in” or “You look like someone who loves what they do” or something similar.
  • “Do you have brothers or sisters?’ becomes “I bet you’re a middle child. I can tell” or “You seem like someone from a large family.” It doesn’t matter if you can tell if they’re from a large family. The point is you gave them the opportunity to talk about something without asking it.
  • “Where are you from?” becomes “You look like someone from the midwest/west coast/etc” or “I bet I can tell where you’re from.”
  • “What’s your sign?” becomes “You’re a taurus, I can tell.”

You can come up with many other examples. Practicing now will make it easier in conversation later.

Follow up

Over the next few times meeting people, try to rephrase all your questions into statements. See how it goes. When meeting people, note how you feel when they ask you questions and answering them, particularly ones you’ve been asked many times before.

Also, note the times you have wonderful conversations with someone new how many questions they asked you.

You, right here, right now

Practice right now. Imagine what questions you normally ask people. Which ones can you reframe into statements?

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4 responses on “Communications skills exercises, part IX: statements instead of questions

  1. I wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of this and would feel like i’m being projected all over with assumptions, and in some cases could elicit negative reactions in others.

    Often it’s not the question thats boring, it’s the energy of the interaction and a lack of genuine curiosity. Is it a case of i’m actually wanting to know more about them.. or just having something to say

    • Thanks for the feedback. Rereading my post after your feedback, I can see how it can look like I’m making lots of assumptions. A couple things might not come across in the post. First, the assumptions aren’t supposed to be that serious, maybe more whimsical. Second, the nonverbal communication — tonality, facial expression, body language — when I do this aren’t probing and serious but more open and inviting. Third, doing it well requires listening and interacting, not forcing one’s views on the other.

      I may be reinforcing your second point, on the energy of the interaction. As I’ve written in other posts, what we call “energy” usually means motivation. If you genuinely want to find things out, people will read your energy as curious and interested since that’s your motivation. If you don’t care and are just filling time, they’ll read your energy as uninterested, since that’s your motivation, and not want to continue. For me, giving statements helps keep the energy of the interaction upbeat. If you do it with questions and that works better for you, all the better.

  2. Pingback: Communication skills exercises, part I | Joshua Spodek

  3. Pingback: Communication skills exercises for business and life » Joshua Spodek

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