You can rely on two easy words to “Whow” your way to a better relationship. It just takes some effort to pick up on the way you currently ask questions, and then replace them with more effective questions. You can just shift to questions that elicit honest, open responses from your partner.
Common mistakes in questions are easy to spot and easy to discard. It’s certainly easy to know when we’ve done it, because they elicit negative responses from our partners. These mistakes are usually as simple as combining you and not. Or, you and why. (Or their partners in crime like how come, don’t, and can’t.)
These can be deadly combinations: “Why can’t you be on time?” “How come you don’t ask me for help?” “Are you going to let him talk to you like that?” You can also work to avoid qualifiers (ever, always), judgmental words (mean, rude), or hinting at the desired response (‘don’t you…?’).
These questions are heard as accusatory, provocative and attacking.
Instead of persisting with these questions that get you nowhere, try to make your questions open-ended. The two-words that make open-ended questions and invite open, thoughtful responses form the mnemonic “Whow”: What, and How. When your questions start with What and How, they show you are interested in learning and willing to listen. They show you are present to share in your partner’s experience.
“That sounded like a tense chat with your boss. How are things at work?”
“Looks like it was a rough afternoon with the kids. What was going on?”
“I feel frustrated when we’re late. What can I do to help us leave on time?”
These questions are simple and straightforward. The first sentence shows you observed your partner’s experience or offers a clear statement about your feelings. The second sentence is an invitation to your partner to share. It avoids an unanswerable question, imposing a judgment, and an angry retort. Rather than putting your partner on the defensive, questions that start with What and How provide an open, safe start to explore what’s wrong and then make things better.
You can practice these skills and learn about other small tweaks that reap big rewards by visiting Power of Two. Call Matthew LeBauer, LCSW at 720-468-0676 and visit www.LeBauerCounseling.com for help to “Whow” your way to a better relationship and lead a happier, more fulfilling life.