Questioning That Actually Listens

Some people love to dance at parties. Others belt out song lyrics and lob requests to the DJ. Still others dress to impress and strut their stuff around the room. Me? I ask questions, get people talking about themselves, and plant myself in a conversation.

Shadow me for a week and you’ll hear me ask a bunch of questions to a bunch of people. Nothing makes me want to give myself a fist bump like asking the right questions that cracks someone open and gets them talking. The more they’re talking, the more I can sit back and listen!

You know what I’ve discovered though? Not everyone shares my zeal for asking questions. How many of you have been a part of a one sided conversation like this in the past week:

John: Hi Joe! How was your weekend?

Joe: Oh you know it rained so much (cut off mid-sentence)…

John: Yeah! I can’t believe how much we got. We were planning on doing some hiking Saturday and that rain just blew those plans up. You have a full week lined up?

Joe: Well my supervisor is shadowing me tomorr– (interrupted a second time)

John (pulling out his phone to send a text): She shadowed me last week. Nothing to worry about there. You’ll be great! Hey, you used to play basketball right? Maybe we could shoot around sometime?

Joe: I’d like that. Sometime after work?

John (no longer listening as he steps away): Let’s make it happen. Well, I gotta run!

To their credit, the Johns in our lives are asking questions. Gold sticker for that. But I’m not sure the Johns in my life are actually interested in hearing what I have to say. John seems to care enough to ask but doesn’t appear to care about the actual response to his questions. What if we became genuinely curious about the people around us and began asking more questions? How might our conversations be different if we didn’t simply ask questions but did so with real intent and desire to listen to what the person had to say?

Proverbs 18:13 says “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” Put in question form, if you’re not interested in listening fully, why ask the question in the first place?

In Genesis 3, we see the aftermath of Adam and Eve breaking the one and only rule God had given them to follow. Verses 9-13 are a fascinating little section. Pay extra attention to the intentional words God uses below:

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And [God] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

First, do you notice the sharp contrast between the questions of God and the blame game that Adam and Eve are playing? Each time God speaks, he asks questions. Second, because God asks questions, the conversation goes deeper – albeit into blame and guilt. It’s interesting to note that later in chapter 3 God himself fashions garments for Adam and Eve and covers their nakedness even though realizing they were naked was a direct result of their sin. Lastly, we can be sure that God already knew where Adam was, that they had eaten the fruit, and the significance of their bad choice. But God’s desire to converse with and listen to Adam and Eve was strong enough that he asked questions anyway.

Friends, what if we became a people who began asking questions with the intent to actually listen?

Genesis 3 is beautiful because it’s our first clear picture of the main theme of the Bible, the gospel, or the Good News! Without God’s questions, Adam and Eve would not fully realize their sin and ensuing guilt; all they would know is that they felt bad and strange. So is it cruel for God to ask these questions and unearth the shame they are feeling? Absolutely not! God’s thoughtful questions and patient listening pave the way for him to do business with their sin and guilt – first by dealing with the deceitful serpent (the Devil), second by delivering consequences to Adam and Eve, and ultimately by sacrificing of himself to hand fashion garments that would cover the source of their shame. This is what God has done for every human on the planet: 1) defeated our enemy for us, 2) outlined the consequences of our sin, and 3) takes away our moral and spiritual shame through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I love that God does this in Genesis 3 by modeling good questions and listening!

What if the next time you see a social media post you don’t like, you delete the snarky hashtag you’ve already typed and instead comment, “I’m intrigued by your post here. Could you tell me more what you’re thinking?” The next time your friend texts you an invite you’re not a fan of, you COULD ghost them in response or you could text back, “Not sure yet if I’m interested in that, but why are you excited about? Maybe I’ll change my mind.” Asking your grandma “how’s it going” is akin to asking my 5 year old what he wants for breakfast – it’s always going to be the same response! (Oatmeal…for Josiah…hopefully not your grandma!). What if you instead surprised your grandma by asking something you could listen to like, “What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in our family since mom/dad was a kid?” or, “What kinds of stuff did you like to do when I was your age?”

Far too often in our society we live too full of lives to even ask questions. When we do slow enough to ask anything at all, we’re often like John from above trying to multi-task, half-listening, or already with one foot out the door. Trust me, people are ready and waiting to answer your questions, open up about their lives, and even share hurts or concerns. The issue generally isn’t that people don’t have problems or aren’t struggling but that we don’t care enough to ask questions with the intent to truly listen.

Asking questions purely so I can listen to people as much as people will talk changes the game. If you don’t know Jesus, this type of philosophy gives you freedom to walk up to a Christian you know and say, “You know, I honestly think you’re a little crazy for believing that Jesus stuff. Why do you believe all that anyway?” If you’re goal is to listen, I guarantee they have things to say! If you’re a Christian, this listening philosophy helps you build trust with people from different backgrounds as you ask, “What are some of the reasons you don’t go to church?”

The more we ask questions with the intent to listen, the more people will come to expect this from us and the more trust gets built.

People often share things with me that they haven’t shared with others because they know I want to listen. A pattern has been established in our conversations and they know I generally have no other agenda in my questions then listening to what they have to say. The more this is true in our conversations, the “riskier” questions we can ask because people know that we genuinely care and want to hear what they have to say.

What about you? What would it take to increase your stamina for listening a few percentage points? How often do you slow enough to actually think of questions to ask or make margin in your day to ask them of those around you? What do people expect from you when you ask questions?

The more our goal becomes listening, the more effective our questions become, the deeper our relationships go, and the broader our networks get.

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