The Art of Asking Questions

In “The Four Agreements” Don Miguel Ruiz theorizes that we, “make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.” 

He was wrong. 

Truth is: we don’t ask questions because we lack the practice, not courage.

It’s likely most of us were discouraged from asking questions since we were kids. It’s even more likely, we were never encouraged to ask questions. So if we haven’t been taught to ask questions, it’s unrealistic to expect us to without learning how.

But we need to learn to ask questions and incorporate question asking into our communication style.

Because question asking is the foundation of self-empowerment and helps build confidence.

Related article: Book Review: The Four Agreements

You do not lack the courage to ask questions, asking questions takes courage.

Benefits of Question Asking

When you ask questions you avoid making assumptions, gain clarity and gather relevant information to make informed decisions.

Information is power and when you ask questions you empower yourself. You remove confusion and can respond to situations in a way that aligns with your goals. You can stop focusing mental energy on wondering what ifs and make decisions based on what is. 

What Question Asking Looks Like

Recently I was seeing someone who gave mixed messages. He said he didn’t want a relationship but he was acting like we were in a relationship: buying me gifts, texting me every day, trying to hang out every night, getting jealous when I would date other people. 

Typically I would have allowed the situation to continue without discussing the inconsistencies. I’d be utterly confused and I would spend time in my mind and with friends trying to figure out what this guy’s deal was.

Related article: How to *Actually* Deal with A Narcissist

Instead, I asked him what was up, “hey you told me xyz but your gestures and actions are saying abc, what’s going on?” 

He confirmed he wasn’t looking for anything serious. I then realized his jealousy was due to him trying to control me. And his desire to see me every day was just because of loneliness.

Seeing his actions for what they really were empowered me to see it was not a good fit and open space in my life for someone who can give me what I want and need. 

How to Ask Questions 

Easier than it sounds, asking questions can be nerve-wracking. Just keep in mind that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. 

You can start by thinking of times when you wish you asked questions and think of questions that would have been helpful in that situation. You can also think of confusing situations you are in now and what questions will help you gain clarity. 

If you feel nervous or uncomfortable asking you can lead with qualifiers:

“Out of curiosity,”
“For clarity”
“I’m confused and would really appreciate your feedback.”
“Just checking in,”
“Can we talk about xyz?”

Helpful Tips and Tricks

It’s a use it or lose it type deal. So if you aren’t in the habit of asking questions, then asking questions may feel uncomfortable. You might not even think to ask and that’s OK. You are aware of the situation now and your job is to build the question asking habit.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Think of yourself as a detective and ask questions from a place of curiosity, not judgment.
  • Asking questions is like a muscle, the more you ask the easier it will become.
  • If you forget to ask a question and then remember after the conversation is over, you’re making progress. Soon your awareness will be closer to the event until it is in real time. 
  • Not getting the answer you want can be upsetting, but it’s better to know the answer than to be left in the dark.
  • Asking questions can be scary, especially if the stakes are high or something important is on the line. Remember that you are nervous because you care and it’s awesome that you care. 
  • Being direct and asking questions can feel aggressive when you aren’t used to asking questions. Keep going.