Restoring your vest of curiosity can make your life better in several drastic ways.
Like many three-year-olds, I have a three-year-old nephew who asks a lot of questions: Can I go faster? What do plants eat? Can the bath suck us in? Of course, it’s cute, even if it’s a little annoying. But adults who have lost this inquisitive nature (which is a massive part of us, by the way) should be inspired by such questions.
Ask questions isn’t just a valuable mechanism for getting the salt passed on to you at the dinner table. It’s also an underrated skill set. And while this may seem strange to describe such a simple rhetorical device, it is what psychologists talk about as a compelling strategy for improving one’s life in surprising, sometimes contradictory ways.
Why Adults Ask Fewer Questions
The problem is that for most adults, asking questions is the same as, for example, touching the doorknob of a public toilet: sometimes it is necessary, but also unpleasant, and it is better to avoid it altogether if possible. One survey in 2013 found that four-year-old girls are the most prolific “whys” — an average of 1 minute and 56 seconds per question. But for the same girl, it is customary to ask 0 questions when she reaches the age of 13-14 years.
The reasons for this decline are varied. Experts say some of us are becoming too self-centered to take perspectives beyond our own. Others are afraid of appearing bothersome (as studies show, this fear is widespread among women). Some are afraid of appearing ignorant or incompetent in front of their peers, and the experience, in turn, throws you into stress, from which there is never an escape.
“There are so many problematic issues associated with this,” says Warren Berger (author of “More Beautiful Questions” and “The Book of Beautiful Questions”), “It really may seem that questions are dangerous.”
Ask someone for help, and you’ll boost their self-confidence by allowing them to feel more favorable to you.
The good news is that these fears are entirely inappropriate. In reality, your most successful and authoritative peers are likely consistent “whys.” If you can overcome insecurities and learn to take advantage of the simple opportunity to ask more questions, you will find that several countermeasures improve your life.
You will become a magnet
In 2017, the Harvard Business Review (a monthly popular science magazine devoted to various issues of business management) conducted a study in which it was found that people who ask questions make a better first impression and are perceived by their interlocutors in a more favorable light. It’s not just that we like to talk about ourselves, and that’s why we like the people who give us that opportunity (even though that’s true). People who ask questions also appreciate responsiveness — a construct that involves listening, understanding, and caring.
“Do you know how Maya Angelo speaks about people forgetting what you said and what you did, but not how you made them feel? — says co-author Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, “That’s why you need a question-and-answer dialogue: it makes people feel heard.”
For this, it is best to ask again, as it emphasizes that you are listening. And to start a conversation, avoid asking, “What do you do?” Many people choose not to discuss working with strangers. Instead, choose something more abstract, like, “Let’s imagine your house caught fire, is there one item you’d like to keep?”
You will be perceived as a competent employee
The same study also found that people who seek advice are generally considered more capable than their counterparts. While this may seem counterintuitive — we tend to portray office superstars as if we have all the answers. It’s straightforward: ask someone to help, and you will increase his self-confidence, making him more disposed to you. The trick, Berger says, is to make sure your questions are born out of genuine curiosity. Other questions will look like you’re trying to become a teacher’s pet.
In the same way, in life, you will become more competent.
As a prime example of how the questions asked can potentially improve performance, consider the case where Korean Airlines pilots crashed in the mountains on a runway because they refused to question bad decisions made by their superiors. But even about situations unrelated to the question of life and death, Brooks says: “The more time you spend on questions and the deeper you try to understand what other people want from you, the easier it is to complete the tasks.” And maybe the sooner you’ll become the big boss.
If you’re too shy to speak up, try asking your questions as soon as they appear — you won’t have time to back down.
You will shorten the distance with the interlocutor
In 1997, psychologist Arturo Aron conducted a study in which he found that two people (opposite-sex couples) who asked each other 36 questions became closer, exchanging experiences. While the focus of the study was on making connections between strangers, exercise can produce a similar effect between people in long-term relationships, whether romantic relationships or others.
More broadly, curiosity gives us more control over our relationships, as well as that elusive chemical spark we call spontaneity. “It’s no coincidence that you get close to a certain person or feel closer to some people than others,” says Aron, “and this is one of the easiest ways to strengthen your connections consciously.”
You will become more creative
Consider the story of Joy Mangano (played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie Joy), who wondered how mops are made, and she had the idea to invent a self-propelled miracle mop. Or the creation of a camera for Polaroid snapshots, the idea of which arose from the fact that the little daughter of the founder of Polaroid asked: “Why should we wait for a photo?”. Innovation is a challenge to the standard order of things, and curiosity allows you to punch holes in dogma to disrupt the status quo.
To have this adventurism, forget the well-established cliché we first heard from our elementary school teachers: “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” There are always a lot of silly questions — and we have to ask them anyway.
“Brilliant questions are often considered silly because of the obvious answers,” Berger says. When they’re asked, your first reaction might be, “It’s so obvious. Why do you ask questions about such simple things?” But I found that most innovations stemmed from a question that seemed very naïve to knowledgeable people. Often, the question starts with ‘why,’ ‘Why are we doing this the way it is?'”
You’ll be bolder
In the second season of this Is Us, Randall and Beth Pearson are concerned that their 12-year-old adopted child often throws tantrums. To solve the problem, they play a game in which they ask each other to list all the worst scenarios related to fear, without taboos (“She will go to prison,” etc.). It turns out there’s something to that. “Often our fears are a little exaggerated,” Berger says. Ask yourself: What is the worst outcome? This is a very effective method for getting rid of fears. Question your fears.”
The result: you will feel calmer, more prepared for new heights, and begin to take risks.
You will be able to develop emotional intelligence
You can easily see how asking questions and answering them can make a person more erudite. But there’s another non-obvious benefit to asking questions. Using the question-and-answer method, a person’s emotional intelligence develops – the ability to recognize, identify, and properly manage their emotions and others. You’ll learn about other people based on how they react, and you’ll learn about yourself by responding to those responses. While Brooks’ research didn’t directly address emotional intelligence, the object he studies — responsiveness — is a “near-perfect correlate” for that purpose, he explains.
“It’s a fascinating topic in the context of questions and answers,” says Brooks, “It’s such a simple and very effective tool.”
You will become a strong leader
We are accustomed to considering a natural leader who knows the answers to all questions. For us, a leader is a person with a broad outlook and authority; this is a person who doesn’t have to ask questions. But in recent years, showing curiosity has been recognized as a more practical approach. For example, in a survey conducted in 2015 among more than 1300 managers, many identified it as a crucial feature of effective leadership.
In his research, Berger noted in an article in the Harvard Business Review of the same year that he “found many examples of modern entrepreneurs and innovators … which relied on rigorous research as a starting point for rethinking entire industries.”
Ask questions of your subordinates. Are you having trouble? How do you see the development of this project? So you promote their more active participation in the project, helping people “develop their own internal goals, and not feel that they are working on others,” says Dylan Selterman, a social psychologist and lecturer at the University of Maryland.
This applies to everything: whether you run a company, a community, or a household. To encourage people to say whatever they have to say, use the acronym ACE: What Else? After a person shares a disappointment or idea, this simple technique will allow him to talk about it to the fullest.
More pleasure will come into your life
It is not always necessary to make a list of questions for a specific purpose. Sometimes it’s fun to ask yourself questions. “Think of curiosity as an itch and asking questions as scratching,” Berger says. “That’s great. Questioning instills a craving for life and learning and helps us stop looking at things through the same familiar prism. To enjoy life, you have to break out of the usual rut, and questions are a great way to do it.”
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