I know someone who says "mother fell in a well" when people ask how he is doing to see if the person is actually listening. I've witnessed a server politely respond to him with "that's wonderful!" in the sweetest tone and with no awareness of his mother's fictional misfortune. We exploded in laughter, and I can't say the server was as thrilled as we were when we explained.
Years later now, I look back on that story as a reminder that listening well for most of us doesn't come naturally. It normally requires a concerted effort over a long period of time before we become great listeners. History's great thinkers and writers have had plenty to say on the subject:
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." (Stephen Covey)
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood." (Stephen Covey)
"If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." (Proverbs 18:13)
"Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." (James 1:19)
"When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen." (Ernest Hemingway)
I've found the quickest way to fast-track progress in any context, particularly relationships, is not a formula broken down into ten easy-to-follow steps. Rather, it's simply learning to listen well and ask great questions.
Over the last few months I've been compiling a list of questions. When the setting has been appropriate I've asked a few people I know to answer them. I always prefaced it with "let me know if this gets boring." No one has turned me down yet, and it's seemed everyone has genuinely enjoyed getting to talk about themselves.
So today I'm going to answer a few of my favorite questions from the list and leave you with the rest. My hope is that you'll not only have some ammo for asking great questions, but that it will provide a setting for you to listen well. Plus, it's just fun. Among four of us, we didn't stop talking for an entire five-hour car ride home.
What is the first memory in your brain?
I would have been around two or three years old. We lived in an apartment in Huntsville. In the afternoon I would sit at the counter outside of the kitchen and eat a dill pickle. When my Dad would get home he would walk up from behind and kiss me on the back of my neck. I vividly recall how prickly his mustache was.
If I were to give you $10,000 right now, what would you do (can't pay bills or debts)?
Go eat hibachi for dinner. Take off work the next day. Go buy a 2000 Toyota 4Runner, trailer, and dirt bike. Spend the weekend riding in the woods.
You have to get a tattoo today. What's it going to be?
"I believe, help my unbelief."
What is the one outfit you would wear every day for the rest of your life?
Boots, jeans, gray t-shirt.
What celebrity would you most prefer to look like?
Hugh Jackman (when I'm 40).
Describe your parents' personalities in a few words.
Mom: kind, compassionate, communicator. Dad: hardworking, consistent, determined.