My partner Sig and wife Susan recently celebrated a significant wedding anniversary with their faith community. Sig spoke on a reading from Chapter 40 of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible. Joseph, who has been unjustly imprisoned, notices that two fellow prisoners seem troubled. He asks, “Why are your faces downcast today?” This question opens a conversation that results in Joseph’s being freed, becoming the most powerful man in Egypt under Pharaoh, and changing the course of history.
Sig’s point: It can be more helpful to ask the right questions than to have the right answers. To notice another’s body language and respond empathetically to another’s mood is a way to build trust. These skills help couples build enduring marriages like Sig’s and Susan’s. They are tools that smooth workplace relationships, cross generational divides, and help to heal old wounds.
What kinds of questions do this? Questions that are open – we don’t know the answer – and that show interest without prying. They respect the other’s dignity and boundaries. They invite a real exchange, in as much depth as the other senses is comfortable and safe. Opportunities abound daily to practice this healing act, if you’re willing to engage.
Young friends do it without thinking. “¿Qué pasa?” “What’s up?”
Elder friends do it with each other. “How’s your spirit?”
Co-workers do it. “What are you working on these days?”
Couples do it. “Honey, you seem happy. Did something good happen today?”
Families do it. “Mom, how was it for you when Dad was transferred to New York?”
Strangers do it. “What brings you to this meeting?”
To almost anyone: “What do you think about …..?”
An open question can’t be answered yes or no. You’ll know you’ve asked a good one when you get a response to which your next words can be, “Tell me more.”
This holiday give yourself and someone else the priceless gift of a good conversation!