I’m fascinated by the power of a good question.
This fascination probably dates back to when I was a preteen. My dad put a book into my hand that year: How to Win Friends and Influence People, the Dale Carnegie bestseller, the self-help book from before self-help books existed. For better or for worse, this book has influenced the way I enter a room ever since.
While I’m sure that it has been used by many to learn how to manipulate, in my life it has borne mostly decent fruit. Because of this book, I became interested in good questions.
It may even have indirectly led to my getting into the field of journalism. I was an English major, tired of lit papers and trying to figure out what to write about. Then one day in an Intro to Journalism class, I was given an assignment that required me to interview somebody.
I was supposed to get sound bites on a handheld recorder and use that tape to create a radio story. This was the first time somebody assigned curiosity to me… for credit. I still remember the rush of walking into a tattoo parlor in downtown Nashville, intrigued because there was a neon fish over the sign out front. Was this a Christian tattoo parlor? I had to know more. Egged on by curiosity, and the challenge of getting voices on tape, I was motivated enough to sit down with people inside that shop. I forgot my natural shyness because I was searching for the right questions to get the answers I needed.
Now, I’m an adult mom who no longer finds it unnatural to think up questions when I meet someone for the first time. Hundreds of articles into newspaper and magazine writing, it’s not hard for me to find out what I want to know from a stranger.
But do you know what I still struggle with? Questions for the people I already know.
How do I get closer to my husband by unearthing all those childhood memories he forgot to remember when we were dating? How do I find out what my friends at church are secretly praying about, crying over, or just wishing they could bring up without seeming self-centered? How do I find out how my sister is, when nobody’s in a crisis but I want to get her to talk about her week? How do I get my toddler to tell me what’s on her mind (wait no, strike this one; that’s an issue at all).
Well, I’m just musing on this, and watching my dear friends who are so good at this (you know who you are)! I’m going to begin this discussion by leaving a list of conversation starter questions to use when you are talking to a friend you see regularly:
5 questions to get closer to other women
What have you been thinking about lately?
This is a good one. It’s direct and to the point, but not overly specific. You might be surprised at how pleasant this question is for the person who receives it, and how efficiently it will help you arrive at something you can pray over, rejoice over, or cry over with your friend.
What did you do this week?
I’ve borrowed this from a friend who uses this so regularly it’s her signature question. 😊 It is polite and may never get you past a few surface level stories, but it means that you’ll know about your neighbors’ and friends’ day to day. They went to a play. They stayed at home potty-training. They’re getting ready to move. The kinds of things you may be oblivious to if you don’t directly ask, because you tend to be oblivious to all but your own week and your own busyness.
What has the Lord been teaching you lately?
This will probably feel like an unnatural question for many of you; it does for me (depending some on who I am talking to). But if we are women who believe the Lord is working, and if we are people who have relationships with him that bear fruit in everyday life, this should be a real question with a real answer on any given week. In other words, if we believe the gospel, we need to be comfortable alluding to the gospel in conversation with all the people we encounter—unbelievers as well as believers in our own church. We are to preach it all day, explicitly and implicitly, and this means we must be comfortable talking about our Savior as if we know him. This means asking other Christians questions that assume they know him as well. Because they do.
How can I pray for you this week?
I have a few major caveats about this one. Similar to the question above, it will only feel unnatural to you if you know you are not going to pray for whatever the thing is that they bring up. Your care for them in this question is only as real as the prayer that will follow. Here’s the other thing, though—you need to be prepared to press a little further into this one. It will be unexpected, and it may only bring a few mumbled sentences about school and the kids, but at least this will be something, something that can lead to more questions for better, more specific prayer.
Can you come over for tea Wednesday?
There’s no substitute for ongoing, sustained one-on-one time with a friend. If there’s anything I came away with when I read this awesome book on friendship, it was that. Every get-together isn’t going to be a home run for both of you, and probably most of them won’t be, but you can’t generate intimacy out of thin air. Time together is the only way. You’ve got find your way into somebody’s living room, and get them into yours.