When I was growing up, I went to an incredible counseling organization called Daystar Ministries in Nashville. They really helped me verbalize the difficulties I had as a kid who was dealing with a very traumatic illness. In our groups, I joined about 6 or 7 other kids my age who were dealing with divorced parents, trouble at school or any number of things that made life difficult.
One of the great things about being in a group of other kids was that I had the opportunity to learn how to interact with them with the guidance of a professional counselor. At the time, I Jim Knestrick was leading my group and he was a godsend. As we began to learn to ask each other questions, we had to think of ‘yes and no’ questions, as well as ‘deeper’ questions. What this did was force us to listen to what the other person was saying and find ways to probe further into those topics to draw out of them what was going on. The benefits to this line of thinking are enormous. By asking someone else to expound on the words they’ve already said, rather than refocusing the conversation back to yourself, it lets the other person know that you’ve been listening and you’re engaged.
In short, this was the advice: “When someone else is talking to you, think of a question to ask that will keep them talking.”
It’s this advice that makes it easy to be around people, to talk and to listen. It’s also what makes me value another person as a friend. Their ability and willingness to ask a question not only makes me feel valued, it means they find what I’m saying interesting.
Adding to this, I find that one of the most missed pieces of a conversation is the validation of a point or statement. A simple, “Hmm.. that’s interesting,” or “Wow, that’s amazing” goes a long way. Then the transition from there to a follow up question feels natural and caring.