Questions show your interest, curiosity and empathy. And questions are a sign of intellignce even if you may have thought the opposite when you were in school.

Listen for meaning instead of listening to respond.

Too often we think someone is telling us a story or complaining because they want us to solve the problem, to fix their complaint.  Sometimes they just want an empathetic ear.  Other times they DO want to find solutions and once you determine which way the conversation is going, you can use open questions to pursue the subject.

Listen to learn, listen for the meaning, not just waiting till they stop so you can take your turn. 

Instead, listen for meaning and emotion.  Work toward, and ask questions to understand, what they are trying to communicate. Make sure you don’t interrupt. Even when they stop for a moment, don’t start talking.  Let the pause in conversation be their time to think, to think if there is something else to tell.  Only when they are clearly finished do you start asking questions to understand more deeply.  

Then before heading toward a discussion of possible solutions make sure you ask if they are looking for solution ideas.  Using the word ideas shows that you know and accept that the other person may listen and acknowledge your suggestions, but they should feel comfortable, and it will not be an insult, if they go a different way.

Offer suggestions, plural, to emphasize that it will be their decision in the end which way to go.  Also, talking in plurals will encourage the idea of seeking multiple options before coming to a decision.

Questions such as what have you already tried?  Have you observed anyone else trying to solve this?  What did they do?   How well did it work?  What else could you try?  These open questions help both of you understand the situation at a deeper level.

Where did we get that hesitation about questions? Imagine for the moment you are sitting in a conference room with other business people.  You have a question, so you raise your hand or indicate wanting to ask something.  You are given the nod.  Too many people say, “This may be a dumb question, but…”  No apologies are necessary.

Listen with curiosity and interest.  Listen for meaning.  Be present. Not just be silent and waiting for your turn.