Communication Skills | Relationship Advice


ASK: 1. to pose a question to someone. 2. to seek additional information, find more clarity, or to make a request for something. 3. as it applies to this book, to redirect the flow of a conversation into areas that can be more interesting or enjoyable for everyone involved.

You're Another Step Closer To Unleashing The Winner Within! Asking questions is a normal part of any extended conversation in your personal and professional life. Your job as a master communicator is to ask questions that elicit positive responses from the people you interact with. That way, you'll be able to show sincere interest while creatively maintaining the flow of a conversation for the enjoyment of all.

Last summer, I watched a new adventure-reality television series on NBC called Treasure Hunters. This fast-paced show featured multi-player teams that tried to outrace each other in their quest of a promised hidden treasure. The teams traveled to historically significant locations around the world (London, Paris, Mount Rushmore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, South Carolina) where they deciphered cryptic codes and puzzles, looking for clues which would led them closer to solving the ultimate puzzle and obtaining the coveted grand prize.

In order to solve many of the puzzles for Treasure Hunters, the teams were allowed to use their laptop computers to access (this site was formerly, which featured a butler named Mr. Jeeves). Using the unique website and search engine, a user poses a question and receives an answer in the form of relevant links. For example, in one episode, it was necessary to know the present-day location of the "Franklin State." The teams entered the question, "Where is the Franklin State?" at and received answers that pointed to the "Lost State of Franklin" located in what is now Eastern Tennessee.

Questions will naturally occur in any conversation where interested parties are there to share information and ideas. But in a normal everyday exchange, excessive or inappropriate curiosity can be viewed as being intrusive or annoying. If you break rapport and receive an unfriendly reply from another person, it's probably because you asked an unwelcome question at an inopportune time. When it fits, you might want to pose your questions to an emotionally-neutral search engine like Otherwise, some questions you ask can annoy people instead of getting them into the flow of a good conversation.


If you ask someone who's in an angry state-of-mind about a sensitive area, don't be surprised if they say to you, "Don't you go there!" Interestingly, this is what questions do. Questions control the focus of what you're talking about. In a sense, asking a question is like choosing a direction for your conversation. A respectful, intelligent question will usually get a corresponding answer. But a rude, stupid, or insensitive question will receive largely negative responses and possibly damage any kind of developing relationship. For example, one situation where single women occasionally receive inappropriate questions is in online dating. Initially, the communication between people using this venue is either done over the computer or by telephone rather than face-to-face. For whatever reason, people (especially men!) who meet through online dating can be blunter and less patient about gathering personal information with inappropriate questioning than they would in a normally occurring relationship.

One woman wrote to me with this interesting example of the type of inappropriate questions she's dealt with during her online dating experiences:

"I was talking on the phone with a guy who I met through an online dating service and he asked me, 'So, what do you do?' So silly me, thinking he was asking again what I do for a living said, 'I'm a human resource manager.'To my surprise, he said, 'No, I mean what do you DO for men? I need a very passionate and sexy woman.' "So I'm thinking to myself, 'What kind of creep am I dealing with here?' I respond to this guy by saying, 'Well, you're never going to find that one out, Buddy! It is rude and offensive to ask that kind of question to someone you've just met.' "And then I hung up! "Maybe the guys who say these kinds of things think they are being playful or sexy, but in fact, they are being disrespectful and tasteless. Sometimes I can't even believe the nerve of some people. Or maybe this online dating thing just brings out the weirdos."

Whether it's over the computer, on the telephone, or in face-to-face conversations, a dialogue with another person will shift direction and change its focus based a lot on the questions being asked. When it comes your turn to ask a question, be sure that you pose it in a respectful and appropriate manner. That way, you'll be more likely to get a positive response instead of a knee-jerk negative reaction. In addition, when you become proficient at asking questions, you'll be able to convey sincere interest, sharp awareness, and honest appreciation to those you're conversing with.


Sometimes people get stuck in their conversations and have little or nothing to say. The following suggestions will help you assist other people in finding their conversational flow so that they can have a more enjoyable experience of talking with you.

Ask with positive intentions. Make sure that you're agreeable, kind, and supportive in the way you approach asking questions of others. If you do this, then you'll be sending out the kind of positive energy that people will naturally pick up on. Also, you don't want to make the other person defensive by giving them the impression that what they're talking about is wrong. So get a sense of what direction they'd like to go in and choose to go along with them on their verbal journey as much as you can with your questioning. For example, my friend Larry likes to take an ultra right-wing position on controversial political issues. But instead of challenging him and pointing out the flaws in his position, I simply ask him what the leaders on that side of the issue are saying.

Prompt them to elaborate on their topic . If a person comes to a quick halt in their discussion with you, it could be because they're afraid of boring you. You can take that fear away and give them more freedom to express themselves by simply asking for more content or information. For example, an appropriate question to ask in order to get someone to elaborate more would be: "That sounds interesting. Could you tell me more about that?" Or you might want to widen the scope of their topic by asking, "How else or where else is that true? I'd really like to know."

Seek clarification of their statements. Sometimes people will speak in broad, general terms. For example, occasionally I've been guilty of making a statement like: "Women love to talk, while men hate to listen." Since I may be afraid of a person's reaction to that statement, I might leave those words hanging without further explanation. But you as a listener could keep on that theme by simply asking, "How do you mean?" Asking that type of question gives the speaker permission to talk more about a subject that could have potential interest for both of you.

Ask cleverly for sensitive information. There will be many times when you'll be asking a question in the hopes of expanding a conversation that may get you into sensitive areas. These are areas that many people don't want to talk about unless they feel safe with you. To avoid an instant negative reaction, you can begin by saying, "I'm just curious. What is it that you hate so much?" What often happens is that the person will counter with: "Why do you ask?" or "What made you ask such a question?" And the reply that handles this objection is for you to say, "Oh, don't mind me. I was just being curious." The key here is to be aware of sensitive areas that might cause a person to be defensive. Then it's a matter of having an acceptable reply if you happen to stir up unwanted initial responses from the people that you ask.

Handle the "I don't know" response. Here's a little verbal trick that I learned from seminars that I took in advanced communication. Whenever you meet resistance to a question that you pose in the form of an "I don't know" response, quickly reply by saying, "Well, what would you say if you did know?" or "That's okay. Just suppose that you did know." The secret here is to do this in a very "matter-offact" way so that it works seamlessly into your conversational style. Try this technique on your friends. I guarantee that you'll be surprised by the instant results that you get, which have a way of keeping conversations flowing and opening up new topics to discuss.

Present questions to keep them feeling resourceful . Sometimes you'll need to support the person you're listening to with creative questions like: (1)"So that was a lot of fun for you?" (2)"Did that make you feel proud?" (3)"How could you not be excited by that?" (4)"That's something you really enjoyed, right?" or (5)"You must have really loved that one, didn't you?" The idea here is to access a person's resourceful emotional states by asking questions that make them focus on being that way. Notice that the key words you accessed with these questions included the positive emotional states of fun, excitement, pride, joy, and love. This is where people find the enthusiasm to talk at their best.

Pose questions to lift their bad mood. In the previous pointer, I stated that asking the right question will automatically elicit a certain desired emotion. With this in mind, you'll occasionally find it useful to ask a certain question in an attempt to break a speaker's bad mood or change their focus in a conversation. An example of this would be to say, "That's not the real you, is it?" when that person is feeling discouraged, frustrated, or disappointed. You've probably heard the phrase, "Are we having fun yet?" This is often said with a similar purpose of changing people's focus when things aren't feeling particularly fun.

By experimenting with new ways to use questions as a communication tool, you can greatly improve your ability to interact effectively. You accomplish this by keeping the conversation flowing in the direction that you both want it to go. That way, you can consistently create an enjoyable experience for everyone involved.


Commit yourself now to having at least one 15 minute face-to-face conversation each day over the next week where your sole purpose is to help the other person get into their conversational flow. Put this task at the top of your "Things To Do List." Then go into this task from the position of being genuinely interested in that person and making them feel important to you. Right before your conversation, re-read the suggestions in the previous section of this chapter so that your options will be fresh in your mind.

Once you've completed your conversation, take a moment to reflect on the effect you had on the conversation by the questions that you asked. Did the other person seem to enjoy the additional interest that you showed? Was the other person more comfortable with you as they began to talk more at length? Or did you find that learning to ask better questions is something that you need to work on a lot more?

"The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions."

Claude Levi-Strauss French social anthropologist

Regardless of your outcome with this single encounter, be sure that you come away with the experience of what it feels like to try to use questions as a practical means of steering conversations in positive directions. Also keep in mind that the practice of asking good questions will naturally help you to become a better listener.


Remember that in order to "talk like a winner" in the broadest sense, you must "ask like a winner" as well. All you have to do is follow a simple and powerful rule: Pose questions that will help increase the flow. Once you appreciate the significance of this essential part of successful communication, it's only a matter of playing around freely with the ideas, practicing with greater intention, and testing it regularly in your own life until it becomes a natural part of you.