It is only people like lawyers who are actually taught how to ask questions. But we all should be, because it is a hugely important skill. Some people always seem to have the perfect question on the tip of their tongue. But most of us do not ask nearly enough.
And yet questions can change your life. Like you are far more likely to get a second date if you ask lots of questions on the first.
So ask lots more. Be interested in the replies, because you will make far more friends by being interested in other people than ever you will by trying to get them to be interested in you. Listen hard, and follow up with more thoughtful questions. By the end of the evening, your new friend will be telling everyone that you are one of the most interesting people they have ever met.
Open-ended questions usually reveal more. But in a difficult negotiation, or when someone is keeping their cards close to their chest, well framed yes-no questions work better.
And in tense situations, ask the toughest question first. Because then, your later questions feel less intrusive, and get answered more freely.
But when building relationships, do the opposite. Start with the small stuff. Because gradually increasing disclosure draws people together. So much so that the psychologist Arthur Aron devised a technique based on increasingly personal questions that make strangers fall in love. You also need to build trust. So be 100 per cent truthful and open from the start. That does not mean telling everything the moment you meet. But you must not wait too long, or it will feel weird when things finally come out.
So quickly “broad brush” your relationship history, children and so on. These details can be filled in later. And do not even try to hide something important, not even for a few days.
Like for example, if you are a single mother, slip that into the very first conversation. Something like “it’s that time, I must go and pick up my daughter…”
After that, whenever your partner shares something, share something similar about yourself. Neither getting too far ahead or falling behind. Things like how you spend your time, your interests, attitudes and values.
Tell each other about your parents, siblings and friends, including any skeletons they are hiding in their cupboards. Own up to anything particularly wild you got up to, however long ago. But lots of detail is unnecessary.
Mostly though, people miss opportunities because they are far too private. Because, as two people gradually exchange personal information, they build a connection.
So, do not get stuck on the news or politics. Instead, exchange a little information around your jobs or whatever, and then start asking lots more questions, and giving more revealing answers. It is way easier than you think, though it still takes practice to get it all together. So get out there, and build up your skills.
Let conversation flow naturally
A date is not an interview, but it can feel like one when one person is barraging the other with meaningless questions.
Do you really care how many brothers and sisters she has or where she went to school? If you do, then by all means go for it. But if not, steer clear. Make sure that everything you say, you mean. Every question you ask, you should genuinely want to know the answer to. Doing this puts you at ease and helps you stay present in the moment, which is definitely a good look on you.
This article was initially published in the Daily Nation