“Hearers interpret our questions and comments from their own perspective. Perhaps we should spend a bit more time encouraging and building confidence in others so they have the ability to see things from a “can do” approach.”

~ Dan Rockwell – Leadership Freak –  from a comment on a blog post

(I kept the above quote in my stash of ideas and today was the perfect prompt for this post. You’ll find out from where this post started in a few paragraphs.)

Crafting our Questions

Our words have the power to build or destroy – and questions are no different.

Using Dan Rockwell’s point that “hearers interpret our questions and comments from their own perspective”, we need to be aware of our spouse’s perspective when sharing or questioning.

If your spouse has a naturally optimistic outlook, and hears your words from a positive perspective, the way you craft your questions remains important and will impact conversations, and you’re one step further down the road.

However, if your spouse wears a pessimistic  outlook -or maybe they call it a realistic outlook – then how you craft your questions is vital.

An Illustration

This is a real conversation I overheard on Sunday with a 50-ish person and a University Student.

To start the conversation, the 50-ish person asked,  “What’s your worst subject?”

Can you guess which direction the conversation went?

It quickly spiraled downward, with concerns about the content of the course, and the teacher. Then the conversation carried on with comments on the teacher’s country of origin, how the political system is impacting the state of education etc. etc. etc.  To be candid, I stopped listening after a while.  It was depressing.

Is this a blatant illustration?  Yup. But it happened!

Imagine  the direction the conversation could have gone if the 50-ish person had asked “What’s your best subject?” We could have left the conversation feeling empowered and uplifted. (Instead of the indignant emotion I’m still experiencing – hence this blog post!*)

Although this was just a short, passing conversation between friends, could it happen that a husband or wife would ask about a workday or experience using this kind of pronounced negativity?  Hmm.

Before you ask…

Take Responsibility.

You know your spouse. You’ve lived together for a bit – or a bit longer than a bit.  There’s every chance you have experience in how your spouse will respond to a conversational direction.

Before asking  a question, use your intuition to sketch a possible path the conversation may take – anticipate. Will your question lead you both toward a place you want to dwell? Will this question lead you both to feel encouraged, confident and capable?

I want to be clear – this kind of analysis is not manipulation. It’s merely taking responsibility for our questions.

Being aware of our questions, and their outcomes, is one way to encourage, build confidence and foster the ability to see things from a “can do” approach.

Phrase your questions to:

  1. Look Forward. Pointing fingers, dwelling on blame and dissecting the past is part of a backward question like “What should we have done?”  Instead of squinting backward – turn forward.  Ask:  “What can we do next time?”  See Dan Rockwell’s post: “There are stupid questions.”
  2. Inspire. Dismantle the roadblocks. Ask questions to excite your spouse. Ask questions that’ll tickle their fancy, open their eyes to new possibilities, and touch that small part of every human that dreams of something more…
  3. Be Useful. Be succinct, and relevant. Asking useful questions usually includes topics that matter right now.  Sometimes being useful is asking questions that bring scary answers – our job is to phrase the question in a way that makes “scary” lead to “able”.

How do you ask “can do” questions?


*Post Script:  This 50-ish individual knows my focus on being positive and it’s quite possible the 50-ish person deliberately chose to start the conversation with our University Student friend this way just to push my buttons…  It worked. (sigh)