Learn the Fundamental Social Skill
- Tuesday, August 17, 2004
If you have avoided the common pitfalls of social insecurity and are becoming more tuned in to reading your social barometer, you are primed to focus on a single skill that the socially competent continually master. This single skill may be the most important thing you can do for making meaningful connections and for understanding and carrying out the principles of self-giving love.
Its simplicity, if not studied, causes it to go unnoticed. But once you recognize its power, you will never approach a relationship without it. The skill? Asking a string of quality questions.
In 1937 the grandfather of all people-skills books was published. It was an overnight hit, eventually selling 15 million copies. And today that book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, is just as useful as it was when it was first published. Why? Because Dale Carnegie had an understanding of human nature that will never be outdated and he knew how to ask quality questions. The skills he teaches in this classic book are undergirded by a pervasive principle: People crave to be known and appreciated.
Quality questions are intentionally designed to open up a person’s spirit. They aren’t throwaway questions, like, “How about those Red Sox?” or “Can you believe this weather?” though those types of questions certainly have their place.
Quality questions invite vulnerability, but are not invasive. They are personal, but respect privacy. They are asked out of genuine interest, but are never blunt. A quality question conveys kindness, warmth, concern, and interest. It is couched in affirmation and appreciation.
Here’s an example. Not long ago, the two of us were in Dallas together to speak at a conference. The host assigned to pick us up at the airport was waiting outside security with our names on a placard. “Howdy, my name is J.T.,” he said as he reached to carry a suitcase or two. We hopped into his vehicle and were on our way – until we hit rush-hour traffic. We were at a near standstill for nearly two hours, and that gave us plenty of time to talk.
“Tell us about your hobbies, J.T. What do you do for fun?” we asked.
He became animated as he told us about playing racquetball.
“Sounds like you really enjoy it,” one of us followed up, “and I bet you get plenty of exercise.”
“Oh yes,” he replied, and then he went into describing the competition he entered last year and how he fared.
“You really love it, don’t you?” we said.
“It’s not only fun; you’re exactly right about it keeping me in shape.” J.T. then told us about his father’s triple-bypass surgery two years ago.
As the traffic crawled, we asked J.T. about his work.
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