Think about people who make you feel loved. What about them makes you feel this way? Without knowing you (or them), I can almost guarantee they ask good questions and listen well. David Augsburger observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” Show me a person who asks questions and listens, and I’ll show you a person who makes people feel known and loved.
Sadly, this is an increasingly rare gift. Stephen Covey notes, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” In other words, most people don’t actually listen—they wait. They wait for you to stop talking so they can talk. Some of this is a matter of attention span—trained by short videos on social media, minds quickly wander. But at a deeper level, most people are simply more interested in what they have to say than what the other person has to say.
This makes asking questions and actively listening one of the rarest (and most powerful) ways to communicate love. And when we bless others by asking good questions and listening well, we uniquely and powerfully reflect God’s character and love. Question-asking was one of Jesus’s favorite tools. Even though Jesus knew all things (John 16:30)—including people’s hearts (John 2:24–25)—he still asked over 300 questions in the Gospels alone.
Though we’ve all benefited from good questions and active listening, many of us feel ill-equipped to do it ourselves. To that end, here are three principles for question-based conversation.
1. Be Curious
The beginning of asking good questions is being genuinely curious about the person to whom you’re speaking. A good conversational tool to keep in your toolbelt is the acronym FORKS. Whenever you meet with new people, ask about their:
(I provide sample questions for each topic at the end of this article.)
“Why” questions are often the best kind to ask. This will help draw out the other person’s motivations, passions, and feelings—which not only makes for better conversation but also helps you get to know this person beyond a surface level.
Another great way to begin a question is with the phrase, “Can you teach me about?” Pick a topic that you know the other person is passionate about or experienced in, and ask the person to educate you on it. This is one of the most effective (and fun) ways to get to know people and to make them feel valued—and it gives you an opportunity to learn. Everyone wins.
2. Follow Up
Once the other person finishes talking, try to repeat the content in your own words (e.g., “So, you’re saying?”). Making a habit of asking this follow-up question will help you learn to listen well. It’ll also assure other people that they’ve been heard and that you value what they have to say.
Another great follow-up question is “Can you tell me more about [choose one part of what they just shared]?” or “What do you mean by [choose one part of what they just shared]?” Not only does this spark deeper conversation, but it signals to the other person, “I’m interested in what you have to say, and I want to make sure I don’t misunderstand you.”
3. Ask Leading Questions
One of the best ways to love others (and glorify God) is to ask questions that lead to mutually edifying, Christ-exalting discussion. God tells us to think about praiseworthy things (Phil. 4:8) and to talk about things that build up the people in the conversation (Eph. 4:29). Think about the kinds of questions that you typically ask. Do they typically stimulate discussions that lead to praise and gratitude? Or do your questions typically stimulate gossip or complaining?
All questions lead somewhere and set the tone and trajectory of a conversation. The next time you’re conversing with someone, ask yourself: Where do my questions lead? Do they tear down or build up? Do they promote anger or love? Do they lead to mutual frustration or mutual edification?
Everyone has something to say, but few have the opportunity to say it since question-asking and listening are increasingly rare.
The next time you meet with someone, challenge yourself to ask more questions than you answer. This can go a long way in making the other person feel valued—and it’s one of the most powerful ways to communicate the character and love of God.
Sample questions for FORKS:
- Family: How has your relationship with your brother been? How is your mom’s health? How have you been shaped by your parents? What is your favorite attribute in your spouse? What is your sister like? Who are you closest with in your family, and why? What does your family enjoy doing together? What is your favorite family vacation or tradition, and why?
- Occupation: What inspired you to pursue the job/major you have? What is your favorite part about your job/major and why? What have you been working on at your job/school recently? Can you teach me about [insert something related to their job]? What has been most interesting to you about the class you’re taking, and why does this interest you?
- Recreation: What do you enjoy doing in your free time and why? How has your [insert hobby or project] been going? What would you say you are most passionate about? If you could make a living out of doing anything, what would you pick and why? Why do you enjoy [insert their favorite TV show/book/activity] so much? If you could join a club or take a class for fun, what would be the activity/subject?
- Knowledge: What have you been learning about recently (in general)? What have you been learning about yourself recently? What have you been reading recently and how is it impacting you? What have you learned about [insert their passion] recently? Can you teach me about [insert something related to their passion or skill]? What is your favorite medium for learning, and why? (e.g., books, podcasts, YouTube videos, hands-on learning, etc.) What is the best advice you have ever received?
- Spirituality: How are you doing spiritually? What is one joy and one challenge in your faith recently? What has God been teaching you recently? What is one way you would like to grow in this season of life, and why? What stood out to you from last week’s sermon, and why? How did you come to faith in Christ?
Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (here, here, and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.
Read “Four(teen) Ways to Improve Your Listening” here.
Read “How to Do (and Enjoy) Discipleship” here.
Read “Four Burdens Jesus Never Asked You to Carry” here.
Read “Three Ways to Make Your Encouragement Meaningful” here.