05/23/2013 01:29 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2013

Questions Make Good Connections

What is the capital of Pennsylvania? It's a good question designed to get a specific answer -- an answer, by the way, that I remember using the mnemonic "Harry's Pennies." But it's not the kind of question that necessarily leads to a good personal connection with others. And yet, questions can be very good for that.

I'm a talker. Always have been. Always will be. In fact, I've turned a social disability of talking too much into a lucrative career as a professional speaker. But that's for another blog on building a business that matches your innate skills and/or issues.

My challenge is that the older I get, the more I realize that my talking gets in the way of creating a deeper human connection. And while I recognize this intellectually, and can even identify it when it's happening, my talking tends to drown out the very thoughts that suggest that I should keep quiet.

The people I admire are the ones who know how to ask me a good question. They know how to carry on a conversation by doing nothing more than asking something about, well, me. And while their questions encourage me to continue my excessive talking, it also shows that they are interested. And that feels good.

If you'd like to be a better questioner as a way of being a better connector, consider the following.

Be Sincere. Somebody once said that sincerity is the most important thing and if you can fake that, you've got it made. Seriously, to truly connect with others, we need to have a sincere desire to do so. It's not about just being nice, or placating, and it's not about doing what you think you should do. Sincerity comes from a place of genuine interest and care.

Just Listen. Listening is tough. In my master's program in social work, I discovered that true listening was multilayered. It involved paying attention to the words, the tone, and the body language. Plus, it included an understanding of the person, their background, and their personality. It was not simply hearing words and responding. And while most of us are not therapists, we could benefit by just paying better attention to the combination of words and emotions.

Probe Without Probing. Probing for the sake of probing, as my proctologist says, is not that pleasant. However, when someone deepens a conversation by asking sensitive and logical questions about what was just said, there is an opportunity to continue a conversation almost indefinitely. So, how do you feel about that? Just asking.

Reflect. Finally, when we're able to reflect what someone says, they feel heard. And when we do that in the form of a question, the person feels heard and usually continues to talk what was just reflected. This shows that you're paying attention, that you're interested and that you're willing to hear more.

Asking sincere questions can be a great way to achieve a good connection. And by the way, the capital of Pennsylvania is Harrisburg. I'm not sure why it's not Philadelphia. Maybe I'll ask someone.

For more by Ron Culberson, MSW, CSP, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.

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