The limitations of asking questions

Let’s Talk, page 70

If your goal is to understand someone, you might think asking questions is the best way to do that. After all, isn’t asking questions a good way to get more information, as well as demonstrate your interest?

While asking questions can indeed elicit useful information, produce insights, and solve problems, it also carries some risks. Questions are often more about what information you think is valuable. They might indeed show the other person you’re interested but be only tangentially related to what she wants to talk about. So instead of helping you better understand her, the questions might actually get in the way. Or worse, your questions might hijack the conversation, distracting the other person and taking her in a direction she doesn’t intend. Asking questions can also quickly turn into an interrogation. Some people feel put on the spot or think you have a hidden agenda when you ask questions.

Reflective listening allows the other person to steer the conversation and keeps it from veering into incidental or irrelevant details, which can slow down or block you from understanding her. It keeps the spotlight on her and tends to trigger less defensiveness, the way questions sometimes do.

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