"How are you?" "Good. How are you?" "Good, thanks."
Now what? Lots of conversations start that way and quickly go nowhere. You haven't learned anything and you haven't made a connection. With people you encounter one time at the grocery store for 10 seconds while you both shop for rice, that might be fine. But most people in your life deserve better. And so do you.
Here are some suggestions to improve your questions:
If you want to be assistance to someone going through something difficult, replace "Can I help?" with "How can I help?" The first question makes it all too easy for "No thanks" as a default response even if they would actually like some help; the second question shows you truly intend to provide assistance and want to do so in the way that would be most helpful. It opens up the possibility of you providing meaningful support in simple ways like folding the laundry, clearing the kitchen counter, or picking up something at the grocery store. And if you're headed to the store, try, "What can I pick up for you?" instead of "Can I get you anything?"
To cut down on the amount of back and forth or decision-making, replace "What can I bring?" with something like "How about I bring dessert and wine?" The host can either say, "Great!" and you can both move on or he or she might respond with something like, "I have dessert covered; could you bring a salad?" Regardless of the response, within moments you have a plan.
Improve your conversations by starting off with something like "What are you excited about these days?" instead of the customary "How are you?" You'll gain some insight into the other person's world and avoid another conversation about the weather or other mundane topics. People tend to really enjoy talking about themselves and their passions so this is a win for everyone.
If you are talking with someone who steers almost every conversation down a negative road, try starting off with "What's new and good with you?" There's a chance you'll get a "Nothing" response but that will probably still be better than a "How are you?" "Not so good" conversation. The "new and good" questions creates the possibility of a positive conversation.
Instead of "What do you think of this idea?" ask "Why is this a bad idea?" If you are going to take a risk, ask someone you trust to help you think of all the reasons something might fail. Then you can address each of the risks, helping you come up with a better course of action, improving your chances of success if you move forward with the idea.
Improving our questions can improve our conversations, our relationships, and our success rates. But to truly benefit, once you ask the question, stop talking and listen to the answer. These small changes can make a big difference.
Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash