It’s easy these days to be acquainted with a lot of people. But how many of those people do we really know? And how many do we want to know?
When asked, most people say that they prefer a few close friends to many acquaintances. But when pressed to say how they do it, they usually admit that they find it hard to develop the kind of close lasting friends that we all remember from TV sitcoms. And they're really not sure of how it happens when it does. So I decided to dig a little deeper.
Studies* have shown people who ask slightly nosy questions form stronger bonds with others on a deeper and more meaningful level than those who don't.
This reminded me of my friend Penny whom I met 26 years ago in a pregnancy exercise class. Penny always had a fun and diverse group of friends that she seemed to bond with quickly and completely
Penny really does ask slightly nosy questions. Could asking nosy questions be her secret for making close and lasting relationships?
When I asked her about it, she said that she moved around a whole lot when she was a kid so if she was going to have any relationships at all she would have to move quickly to get to know people and make efforts to stay in touch when she moved on. So being a naturally curious and caring person anyway, she asked a lot of questions.
Brilliant. I always had a feeling that asking the right questions was one of the keys to forming closer relationships and to enjoying life more. Penny proved it to me!
But we know it’s true that not all questions are created equally. Questions can be used to hurt, shame and, criticize people, as well as encourage and uplift them. It all depends on the intention behind the question, how we word it, and the tone of voice we use to ask it.
In Denmark, where the people have been voted the happiest in the world for 40 years straight by the OECD, they put a lot of effort into parenting itself and especially to the questions they chose to ask their children.
According to Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl who wrote The Danish Way of Parenting*, some questions they commonly ask their children may sound like this:
Can you see that adorable child over there?
Isn't he nice?
Isn't that child clever?
Can you think of something fun to play with her?
Americans might think of questions like this as "leading the witness" but Danes use them to shape the way their children learn to perceive others. With a lens of kindness and caring.
So needless, to say, I'm very interested in finding the very best questions to ask family members, children I care for, and my friends. I look for questions that encourage empathy, bonding, encouragement, and self-reflection. Here's the list I compiled of questions I thought were the best at promoting close relationships. I hope you find it useful!
When you ask these questions, it's important to just listen to the answers and not to judge what you hear. Otherwise, people will just start avoiding your questions. If you can't think of what to ask, just be curious and kind. People will appreciate you for caring enough to ask.
Are you Ok?
Can you tell me more?
What did you learn?
Are you doing your best?
How can I help?
What could you do about that?
What did you enjoy the most about it?
What did you dislike about it?
Are you OK?
How could you make that work better?
How could we work as a team on that?
In what way is that annoying thing annoying? In what way is it useful?
What did your parents do right with you?
Is there anything I can get you?
Are you Ok?
How would your BFF describe you?
What can I learn from you?
What would you like people to stand up and say about you at your retirement party?
What would you like inscribed on your gravestone?
Who is someone you trust?
What makes you feel better when you’re down?
In what ways would you like to help people? (here’s a link to a fun family fundraising project I sponsor)
What kind of help would you like to receive?
What’s one thing you learned a while back that you still enjoy? How and why did you learn it?
Are you feeling….Happy? Sad? Worried? Mad? Scared? Elated? Grateful Angry? Frustrated? Anxious? Outraged? Impatient? Jealous? Appreciative? Amazed? Calm? Agitated? Motivated? Afraid? Bored? Ambivalent?
The last question set, about identifying and labeling feelings, can lead to the type of emotional awareness that makes people resilient to things like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and acting out.
Thanks for stopping by today!
Nanci J Bradley BS MA, 60+, is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI
* Huang K., Yeomans, M., Brooks, A. W., Minson, J., & Gino, F. (2017). It doesn’t hurt to ask: Question-asking increases liking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113(3), 430–452. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000097
*The Danish Way of Parenting, Alexander, Jessica Joelle and Sandahl, Iben Dissing (2014, Penguin Random House LLC)