Happy Valentine’s Day Travelgirls! I just received a release with these questions to ask your significant other and it really hit home for me. We ask each other a lot about who fed the dog and what’s on the calendar this week. But here’s a way to dig a bit deeper. And learn about ourselves in the process.
These are from Andrew Sobel, author (along with coauthor Jerold Panas) of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others.
Really showing someone you care has little to do with chocolates or flowers, he insists. Relationships, whether at work or at home, deepen and grow when you take a sincere interest in the other person and invest time to learn about who they are and what they care about. Thoughtful questions are the way you do this.
“Power questions are called that because they give power to your conversations and to the other person,” explains Sobel. “They make you stop talking and start listening. They help you learn things about a loved one that—I guarantee you—you didn’t know. And best of all they make the other person feel loved, valued, and worthwhile.”
If you have a romantic partner, Sobel recommends you try these questions on Valentine’s Day. If you don’t have a romantic partner at the moment, he assures you that they also impact anyone else you love—a parent, a child, or just a good friend.
1. What are your dreams? Sit down with a cup of coffee—or a glass of wine—and allow some silence. Smile warmly. Ask this question with no elaboration—don’t mess it up with other words. Then wait.
“This is a deceptively simple question—deceptive because of its power,” notes Sobel. “Most of us are afraid to ask it. What if the answer is something we don’t want to hear? And yet, the conversation it sets in motion can transform lives in exciting ways.”
2. What would you say has been the happiest day of your life? (and why did you choose that day?) Think of this question as the start of a much longer conversation. Why did the person choose that particular day? What other days have been happy ones? What is happiness, for him or her, anyway? Is it the same thing as joy or contentment? Allow an hour at least!
“Sometimes we have huge misconceptions about our partner—even if it’s someone we’ve lived with for 30 years,” says Sobel. “You may discover you have been projecting your own feelings and beliefs onto him or her.”
3. Can you tell me about your plans? We are all so FULL of our own plans, notes Sobel. Our own priorities. Our own goals. Our own stories. When we really, truly focus on our partner—not just use what he or she says as a springboard to talk about ourselves—we learn amazing things.
“Ask this about anything: the other person’s career, their upcoming vacation, their weekend,” Sobel suggests. “Instead of talking about your plans—or what you think the other person’s plans should be—ask the questions and just listen.”
4. What do you think… (about this idea, news event, etc.)? “My coauthor on Power Questions, Jerry Panas, calls these the FOUR WORDS,” explains Sobel. “They are very simple: ‘What do you think?’ You’d be surprised how many people are never or rarely asked these four words. They can unleash a marvelous conversation—and help you make a warm connection.”
5. What do you wish you could spend more time on each week? Less time? Actually, this is a good one to ask if you got a blank stare or an eye roll when you asked your partner about his or her dreams, says Sobel. In some ways you’re asking the same thing—just in more pragmatic language.
“I ask this question a lot in business relationships and I find it gets the other person talking about what they really love and enjoy in their lives,” says Sobel. “I get to know them so much better. An added benefit, when you ask it of a partner, is that sometimes you can help them figure out a way to change their day-to-day reality.”
6. Can you tell me something about yourself that I don’t already know—and that might surprise me? This question can reveal surprising, even astonishing things about someone you thought you knew well. “A friend of mine once answered this by telling me ‘I spent a night in jail in Lubbock, Texas,’” says Sobel. “Someone else said, ‘I rode on Air Force One with President Lyndon B. Johnson.’ Yet a third revealed they had been jilted the day before their planned wedding!”
Try it out yourself, he suggests. You may not find out anything that dramatic—but then again, you might!
7. Right now, what are you most passionate or excited about in your life? “This is what I call a ‘passion question,’” says Sobel. “When you tap into people’s passions, they come alive and the conversation comes alive. All of a sudden you’re not just chit-chatting about mindless trivia. You’re talking about the stuff that lights us on fire!”
8. What would you say gives you the most fulfillment in your life? This comes at passion from a slightly different angle from the previous question. Maybe the answer will be the same. Maybe not. But a conversation about what fulfills us in our lives is always a rich and rewarding one.
9. What are you doing this week that I could help you with or support you on? Even if the answer is nothing, you’ll make the other person feel supported and loved. If there is something—well, it’s a good day when you can identify how to help someone else.
“Remember, ‘from everyone to whom much is given, much shall be required,’” says Sobel. “Maybe you can run an errand for your spouse. Or help a friend with an unpleasant task. It could be that simple.”
10. Can I share with you the reasons why I love you so much? (or, value you so much as a friend?; or, enjoy spending time with you?; or, am so proud of you?; etc.) Think this one through beforehand, suggests Sobel. Really ponder it. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone—a spouse, a child, a friend—is to share with them why you think they are so special. Why you treasure them. Why you love being around them.
“This one is powerful, and it’s truly in the spirit of Valentine’s Day,” he says. “Go for it.”
So…pick a question (or two or three of them) and give it a try. “It may feel a little alien to you at first but it will get amazing results,” promises Sobel. “And it sure beats carrying on a monologue about your workday, discussing your child’s C in geometry, or sitting in uncomfortable silence. Power questions create power conversations…which create power relationships.”
About the Authors: Andrew Sobelis the most widely published author in the world on client loyalty and the capabilities required to build trusted business relationships. His first book, the bestselling Clients for Life, defined an entire genre of business literature about client loyalty. His other books include Making Rain and the award-winning All for One: 10 Strategies for Building Trusted Client Partnerships.
Jerry Panas is executive partner of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, one of the world’s most highly regarded firms in the field of fundraising services and financial resource development. His firm has served over 2,500 client-institutions since its founding in 1968.
Jerry is the author of 13 popular books, including the all-time bestsellers Asking and Mega Gifts. He is founder and chairman of the board of the Institute for Charitable Giving, one of the most significant providers of training in philanthropy.