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Posted Monday, January 25, 2010, at 8:08 PM

By: Lisa Earle McLeod


Everyone is looking for the magic bullet, the secret words that will make our spouse melt, our coworker cooperate and our customer giggle with glee as they sign on the dotted line.

After 20 years as a sales and business coach and a decade spent helping people with their personal relationships, I've discovered that in most situations, the secret statement is rarely a statement.

It's a question.

Nothing is more exciting or affirming than someone who is sincerely interested in us, and the best way to demonstrate interest is by asking questions.

It's ironic. On an emotional level, we all know how wonderful it feels to have someone take a sincere interest in us. We immediately engage, we feel comfortable and we share more information.

But for whatever reason, when we try to get someone interested in us or try to persuade someone to go along with our plans, we often take the opposite approach. We wind up talking more about ourselves than we do asking about them.

I've observed thousands of business and interpersonal interactions, and I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt: The people who are the most well-liked and who are the most successful at getting others to go along with their ideas are the people who ask the best questions.

So why don't we do it more often?

The common assumption is that we're self-absorbed and don't care.

It's true that in many cases we're often so overwhelmed with our own lives that asking about others doesn't register on our radar. But I've found that, given the chance, most people really do want to know and understand each other better. They just don't know how to go about it.

The reasons we don't ask enough questions include everything from lack of planning (we tend to plan what we're going to say rather than what we're going to ask) to lack of expertise (it's hard to come up with questions when you don't have a context) to fear of the unknown (it might take the conversation in an uncomfortable direction).

However, with a little practice, it's actually not that hard to get people to open up. But you have to be sincere.

We're all familiar with the old, "How are you?" that doesn't mean a thing. And anyone who's ever kicked a tire at a car dealership knows that, "Don't you think you'd look great driving this?" isn't really a question; it's just a feeble attempt to close.

Good questions, the kind that truly connect us with others, come from a place of true interest. Here are three examples (more at www.triangleoftruth.com); try them the next time you want to sincerely connect:

1. What do you enjoy most about (insert important activity)?

Asking someone to describe the best part of their job, or parenting, or a hobby or even just their day, sets a positive tone and opens a window into their emotions.

2. What's the most challenging part of (something they spend a lot of time on)?

This demonstrates that you're genuinely interested in what it's like to live in their world.

3. What are your highest hopes for the (something they care about)?

Whether it's about their job, their church or their child, when someone shares their hopes with you, they're opening up a piece of their heart. They're telling you what really matters to them.

Your job as the listener is to treasure the information.

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Angst is in the air: Be careful it's catching
Lisa Earle McLeod
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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.