No More Questions

No More Questions
Photo by Gemma Evans / Unsplash

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Every once in a while, someone tells me something that completely changes the entire way I see the world. That's what happened to me after a conversation with Ted Klontz, one of the best psychologists in the world.

My entire life has been a mission to ask better questions. Be more curious. Perfect how to listen to hear what others can't. To discover the undiscovered. To ask what doesn't get asked. And, I got pretty good at it. Heck, I even started a podcast & dinner series called ask 15 years ago.

But then I met Ted. One day, after an hour of conversation, Ted says to me,

"Do you realize that asking questions causes anxiety for the other person?"

Huh? WTF are you talking about? I'm just trying to ask better questions...

Then he blew my mind. For the last year, I've forever changed the way I show up and have conversations. I rarely ask questions anymore, and it's changed everything.

Here's the story Ted shared with me. I think everyone needs to read why we need to stop asking questions and a better way to help people share what's on their mind. It will improve every relationship you have; work, life, love.

Introducing, the work of Ted Klontz.

No More Questions

One day my long-suffering wife of 30 years said she wanted to ask something of me.  I said “of course.”     

She asked if I would be willing to listen to her as if she was a client. I felt embarrassed that she had to ask for that and grateful she was willing to.  

What she was inferring was that she was finding it hard to connect with me.  The “Dirty Dozen” (See Below) had infiltrated our communication process and was negatively impacting our relationship.   

Imagine the last time that your best friend (or boss, or son, or daughter, or significant other, or employee, a customer……) wanted to talk to you.   

Replay that scene.  

Keep that image in mind as you ask yourself the following questions.  

As you go through this list, recall how often, in your other relationships, you might do one or more of the following:  

  • Did you ask them questions looking for more information?  
  • Perhaps they were seeking your advice, did you make suggestions, propose solutions, tell them what you know about how others (yourself maybe) have dealt with a similar situation?  
  • Perhaps they were feeling down, did you try to cheer them up?  
  • Did you try to make them feel better by telling them that you could relate to their situation? 
  • Perhaps you tried to comfort them.  
  • Did you offer praise and/or approval, reminding them of what a good person they were, how they might feel better if they focused on the positive?
  • If they seemed a little off-base with their analysis of a situation did you use logic and reason in your attempt to help them.  Did you use facts, your experience and knowledge to support their position?
  • Were you assertive and direct, cutting to the chase? 
  • Did you point out the benefits and/or dangers that might await them if they chose a particular action?  *Did you offer constructive criticism?
  • Did you use your sense of humor to help lighten the situation?

If you used one or more of these communication tools, research suggests that rather than enhance communication and relationship quality, these tools actually work to impede or limit the quality of communication and by implication the relationship.  

The above list is from the work of a Psychologist, Thomas Gordon.  They are part of what he calls the 12 roadblocks to communication.  I call them the “Dirty Dozen”.  It isn’t that they don’t work at all, it is that they, and the other members of that communication “team”, don’t work very well, and the end result is that, at best, there is little growth in the relationship and at worst, the relationship suffers.

When I present this information in the workshops I do, I often hear, usually with a tint of good-natured laughter, “What else is there?  If I can’t use one of these, how do I talk to another person, what’s left?”   

Good question.  Simple answer.  Listen, listen, and listen.  

How to do that, how to actually listen to what a person is saying hearing what they are saying, is an art form.  And, the hardest people to truly listen to are the ones who deserve it the most. Those closest to us.  

That is what my wife was speaking about when she gently reminded me that I wasn’t doing a very good job of listening to her.  

For today, let’s focus on the first item on the “Dirty Dozen” list.  Dr. Gordon considers asking for information from another person in question form a roadblock to communication rather than a helpful interaction.  I’d like to offer an alternative to asking questions, an alternative that can totally change every relationship in your life, for the better.

Don’t ask another person another question.  Ever.  Stop asking questions.  

A question, any question, is simply a statement in disguise.  It is a request for information, in disguise.  

The human body reacts to a question with a stress response (not good for human interactions because by your question you raise their level of subconscious anxiety).  

Perhaps that is why there is a hook (?) at the end of a question.  Ask the average teenager a question “How was your day?” and they will shrug.  Perhaps in an attempt to get the hook out?  The subconscious tends to see the question as a trap.  And it gets anxious to provide the correct answer.  You can ask for the same information in a statement form and the human body relaxes (good for human relationships and you are the one who made them feel more relaxed). 

So, how in the world could someone eliminate questions from their vocabulary? 

How does one do that and still get information that they might want or need?  

Oops, I just asked two questions.  

I could have said the same thing, in statement form by saying, “I would like to know more about how one does that”.  

That simple shift can change every relationship you have.  and

People will feel closer to you, better about being in your presence, and feel like they are special to you, all good things.  

Some examples: 

  • “Why?”, becomes “I wonder why”; 
  • “What?” becomes “I wonder what/if”.  

Other responses include 

  • “I’m curious to know”, 
  • “I’d like to know”, 
  • “Tell me more”, 
  • “Catch me up”, 
  • “So tell me…”, 
  • “Tell me about your day”…. 

Our culture uses the questioning tool as if there was no other way to solicit information. 

Questions, insert unnecessary anxiety, and could be classified, based on the body’s autonomic nervous system’s response to them, as unnecessarily aggressively violent, when quite often our intention and desire is to improve our sense of connection.  

Asking questions is simply a habit.  Habits can be changed. 

I’ve had more than one parent tell me that their relationships with their teenage son or daughter totally changed by using this one tool.  

By the way, for each member of the Dirty Dozen team, designated in the list above, there are alternative strategies that work better and more efficiently, with the ultimate result of communication and relationship quality improving dramatically.  There are more efficient methods for each of the other members of the “Dirty Dozen”. 

If you do try this, and you run into me and let me know you’ve read this, if I am having a good day I’ll say, “So tell me what you have noticed”, rather than “So, how’s THAT working for you?”

I have jokingly said that on my tombstone, as a final effort to change the world, to make it less hostile and more peaceful, I would like for it to read “No more questions, please”. 

As for my wife’s request?  I was appropriately chastened, and she’s never had to ask me again.  

Tell me what you think.  

Ted Klontz

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Jamie Larson