Boyd Matheson: If you must speak, ask a question

Andy Dean Photography

“There really can be a greater quality to all of our relationships if we understand the difference between exclamation points and question marks. Instead of trying to make points, we might want to try asking a question instead.”

Our ability to have meaningful dialogue with each other is being endangered by too much technology, too little listening and a culture where angry rants rule the day. It seems that our interactions, both online and in person, have devolved into a series of collective monologues, with no one listening or thoughtfully engaging. The skills that bring about dynamic conversations and elevated interactions — listening and asking questions — are nearly extinct.

John Guaspari, in his work “I Know It When I See It,” tells a story about a fictional company called Punctuation Inc. This imaginary company crafted a broad line of products including parentheses, colons, question marks and exclamation points. Unfortunately, it had a quality control problem.

A frustrated customer came in one day with a complaint about the exclamation points he had purchased.

The customer said, “I was trying to discipline my kids, and I wanted to be forceful, so I used an exclamation point. I was hot under the collar — so hot that the exclamation points began to melt.”

The customer explained that when the exclamation points melted, they would sag into question marks. So instead of sounding firm, intimidating and loud, he sounded understanding and thoughtful. Instead of being unbending and uncompromising, he listened and was more inquisitive.

There really can be a greater quality to all of our relationships if we understand the difference between exclamation points and question marks. Instead of trying to make points, we might want to try asking a question instead.

From many experiences with my wife and children, colleagues, employees, politicians, business leaders and even strangers, I have adopted a simple philosophy, “If you must speak, ask a question.” It is amazing what you can do with a question. I believe you can do far…

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