Let’s experiment with something. Have you ever had this conversation with a loved one?
“How was your day?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t care.”
If you have, welcome to the human race. We’re the kings and queens of asking yes-or-no questions and questions that lead nowhere. (And giving one-word answers in response.) Unfortunately, that’s not how relationships are built, maintained, or grown.
There’s an anonymous quote that goes something like this: ”A relationship without communication is just two people.” In other words, communication is the relationship. What might seem like just passive, empty conversation is actually harmful to your relationships. Because without communication the relationship doesn’t actually exist.
That might be hard for you to hear. That might even be convicting.
My aim is to encourage you to go deeper than just “How was your day?” My goal is to get you to have real, authentic conversations.
And the first step is towards curiosity.
Curiosity Killed the Cat—But it Can Save Your Relationship
Being a good communicator means being a great listener, and being a great listener starts with curiosity.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” We naturally want to focus on ourselves, especially during conversations. We love to talk about our own thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Or we only listen with the intent of responding. How can you tell you’re making conversations about yourself? Take note of how many times you say the word “I” during a conversation.
To solve this issue, become curious about the other person. Set your own motivations, wants, and needs aside and listen. Pay attention to what the other person is saying and how they’re saying it. Take note of any affect shifts—either physically, or in their tone of voice. They might’ve answered the “how are you” with a simple “fine”, but if their tone notes otherwise—follow that.
Since we’re talking about personal relationships, you already know what the norm is—so take notice when things are out of the norm. When the body is stressed, it’s easy to control the mouth, but not the body. Friends and family members won’t always disclose problems, but you can pick up on deeper issues by paying attention to their physical response. Remember that communication isn’t just the words we speak but how we speak them. Dig deeper. Allow them to open up.
How to Replace “How are you doing?”
One of the biggest struggles in personal relationships is being lazy. We don’t put in effort to get to know the other person—because we assume we already know everything. So we ask throwaway questions that get us nowhere.
What’s the typical response to a lazy question like “How are you” or “How was your day”? “Yes” or “Fine”--one-word responses. We get frustrated with our significant others or children when we receive these one-word responses, but, in reality, we set them up by not asking the appropriate Calibrated Questions™.
It’s important to be attentive with the questions you ask. Make them intentional. Rephrase the question “How was your day?” to something more thought-shaping to encourage them to open up, like “What’d you do today?”
From there, follow their answer with Labels™, Mirrors™, and Dynamic Silence™. (The Quick 2+1™ if you’re familiar with our skills.) Our Labels typically start with “It seems like” or “It sounds like”, and can encourage your family member to share more details. If their tone seems stressed or tense, Label it:
“Sounds like today was stressful?”
When they continue talking, use a Mirror. Take advantage of an upward inflection in your voice to encourage them to tell you more, or to demonstrate that you understand.
Remember—curiosity matters. These aren’t just “Jedi Mind Tricks”. You aren’t just trying to get information out of someone. Demonstrate that you’re truly interested in understanding and knowing your loved one deeper.
The Cost of Not Being Curious
So often in our careers we hyper-fixate on our professional improvement at work, pouring our energy into getting ahead and getting things done. But when we leave and go home, we don’t offer our friends or loved ones the same standard or attention.
We bring our best to work and give our families the leftovers.
We need to start approaching our families and significant others with the same due diligence we give everything else. Conversations have to be more than just showing surface-level interest. Because without digging deeper, you jeopardize the relationship and run the risk of losing the other person. They’ll remain closed-off and distant.
Instead of offering those closest to us our leftovers, we need to give as much—if not more—to them as we give to other areas of our lives. This can be extremely difficult if you work in a high-pressure environment. Your emotions are amped up constantly, and when you get home, you’re deflated and drained. We’re good listeners and good communicators until we get burnt out. Unfortunately, those that are closest to us pay the price.
My challenge for you, even when you’re drained, even when you’re exhausted or feeling lazy—stop asking “How are you doing?” Cut it out of your vocabulary completely.
Dig deeper. Rediscover your friends and families. Start to see those relationships transformed by listening at an empathetic level.