Today’s topic for our Creativity Series hits close to home because I personally need to work on my listening skills so you’ll soon see why this discussion fuels my intent even more to develop the art of listening. Our topic?
Ask why and other questions more often and listen to others when they speak. Hear what is said and not what you think was said (reading between the lines).
This is me asking a ton of questions at Egg Mercantile in Amsterdam. The end result? A great shopping experience and an introduction to products I’d not heard of prior to my visit.
We start asking why the moment we learn how to talk. I think everyone had their parents tell them at least once, “You asked why all the time when you were little.” Why did you ask WHY so much? It’s usually based on sincere interest. Children want to know why the moon is in the sky, why the bees need honey, and why mommy or daddy is upset. Asking why is how we learned about the world around us then and it’s how we learn about things today but sadly asking why as an adult usually feels awkward or is considered bothersome. Your question may receive an answer but it is followed by a pause or a deep sigh or worse, the familiar condescending smile, “Well I guess I can show you”. Oh bother! We dared ask!
You should automatically know the answers to everything, right? I mean didn’t you get that memo the moment you finished college? It came with your diploma, “You are officially smart. You need not ask why any longer but instead, smile and pretend you know because that makes you appear smart and confident. Asking why makes you appear to not have all the answers and God forbid you don’t know something. Going forward, nod your head, smile and wave, and pretend you completely understand everything you are being told for the rest of your life. Bothering others isn’t polite when you can just Google it.”
Rubbish. It’s acceptable, normal, professional, mature and dude it’s not annoying to be curious and ask why along with other questions that pop into your mind mid conversation. We were not placed on this planet to be nodding, smiling, know-it-alls. We were put here to be the best we can possibly be, to help others, and to live a meaningful life which usually includes living up to our full potential. How do we do any of it without…
Asking questions! Asking opens us up to alternate ways of thinking, new ideas and opportunities, and a potential rewarding conversation that inspires and encourages.. It can also change the course of something. Lots of people asked why so many quality fabrics in America were offered to the trade only and all that asking (and complaining!) resulted in several companies creating exclusive lines for non-designers to enjoy.
Asking questions can endear you to others forging better friendships because many are fond of those who have enough respect for them to ask for their advice or for answers. It puts the person you are speaking with in a position of respect and honor and who doesn’t love to have a friend around who makes them feel like that? Key is when you ask your questions is to find those that you respect, who possess traits that you would like to emulate, and then decide what exactly you would love to know about that they possess a real knowledge of. Ask them about their work, their passion, how they do what they do. Asking can also be a real time, and in some cases, money saver. Maybe your quilter friend has always wanted to know how to paint and you’re a painter who wants to know how to quilt. Ask if they’d be interested in teaching you their skill and vice versa. Why attend a class if you can exchange knowledge with a friend?
When it comes to talking, most feel comfortable discussing things that they have experience with. This is completely understandable but also very limiting if you think about it. You may find that you and your interlocutor talk about the same thing over and over. Try mixing it up sometimes. Ask them what they thought about this movie or that world event, etc. Select a topic that you know little about but have a sincere interest in learning. You can ask your friend, who perhaps has the best wardrobe, how she developed her sense of style. Ask her if she’d help you find yours (if you feel you need to of course, sincere interest is key). Ask your pal who is amazing at scouting for flea market finds how she does it. Ask her why she got into scouting in the first place. It’s important to learn from others and their personal experience; stimulating conversation helps us to grow and discover new things which can make us think more creatively.
Now for the next part… It is important that when we receive answers that we are careful not to read between the lines.
Ah, reading between the lines. We’ve all done it. This is something I’d like to quickly highlight. Have you ever read something online or heard someone speak and instead of taking what they said at face value, you imagine that what they said is not what they really meant. Sheila says, “Holly you look fab in that new dress!”. The Holly translation software, 2.0 infinity squared, runs that comment and spits out, “Your friend likes your dress because she is fishing for a complement herself!” “She really means you look frumpy” “She meant fat but said fab instead”. It’s a good idea to think about how you listen. Does your conversation translator mess things up a bit for you? When we notice frequent arguments or that we exit conversations a bit drained we may need to ask ourselves if we’re hearing what someone SAID or what they DID NOT SAY. Be honest with yourself on this point. It’s better to hear “Holly you look fab in that new dress!” and then your inner voice replies, “You know it girl, I sure do!” vs. some other weird negative thing that the person did not say. Same applies when we ask someone a question. Listen to each word. Hear what they truly are saying.
So back to asking questions and listening. I can see you are already a good listener because you made it this far. I’m nearly finished so you won’t need a snack or bathroom break anytime soon. I’m wrapping up now…
It’s easy to become excited when others talk, you may be tempted to talk over them, finish their sentences, think about what you will say next, or not listen entirely to what they are saying. Have you ever sat down to talk to a friend only to sense they were preoccupied (lights were on but no one was home)? You may have said “I sold so much in my Etsy shop the other day and Brad Pitt and the monkey went to the picnic and big bird was there too, did you see him?”. More nodding from across the table followed by a “Sure did”. You know they definitely did not hear you. Or worse, personal experience here: I once had a close friend who habitually would engage in text messaging while being involved in a conversation with me over dinner. She no longer does it because I found a new close friend! It really broke my spirit when I tried to share something with her and her thumbs were busily tapping away on her cell. It’s best to remove yourself from a conversation if you’re not up for being part of it. Really. I’m still learning this myself, I think because I’m outgoing and chatty I will always have to work on developing the art of listening more. You learn little by agreeing and nodding your way through a conversation. Listening to who the person is and what they are trying to share is driven by your need to discover and explore. And yes, it goes back to the whole respect thing that was already mentioned.
You’ll be surprised to see how much others will share when you show yourself to be a good listener.
Here’s an exercise for you this week that may be helpful:
1. List 3-5 people in the comments section below (or you can journal it privately or share it on your blog linking it here) that you sincerely want to learn something from. Just use their initials please or first name last initial.
2. Next to their name, ask them a question that you would love to know more about. It can be anyone from your best friend to someone you work with. No former friends, ex-husbands, famous people, the goal isn’t to dig up ugly stuff or make this exercise negative or potentially harmful to you. The goal is to connect with someone who can recharge you and rev up your creativity. The goal is to ask why of someone you really think could inspire you.
3. Finally, ask one person on your list your question within the next 7 days. When they answer, listen. Do not read between the lines (make a real effort to not do this no matter how hard your brain tries to alter their words). If they do not answer your question fully, that’s okay because no one has to share their inner stuff if they don’t want to. Move on to the next person on your list. And the next. It really feels good to ask why doesn’t it?
(image by thorsten becker)