This was the text I received from my panicked daughter, 20 minutes after I had dropped her off at school for her first final exam of the semester.

I had already taken time out of my work day to drop her off to save her from taking the bus, and everything had gone according to plan…

She had arrived at school early so she could be focused and calm as she entered the intimidating space of THE GYM where the entire school goes to write their exams.

I had planned to carve out some time to focus on my business after that, and had just ordered myself a nice coffee and was all settled in, computer and all when this frantic text came in.

The Susan of three years ago (before I trained as a coach) would have immediately jumped to the solution. I likely would have grabbed my computer, poured my coffee into a “to go” cup, and raced home to go through my 15-year-old’s room to find her student ID so she could write her exam.

But the more “enlightened” Susan of today did not.

Nope. Harsh? Maybe.

First of all, it was a workday for me. If I jumped to every problem my family had and prioritized them every single time, I would never get a thing done. (Boundary-setting.)

Second, I am trying to build resiliency and independence in my daughter. If I rescue her every single time, when will she learn?

I only have a couple of short years until she could be on her own in post-secondary having to troubleshoot things for herself. High School is the time to learn lots of things about self-managing and life, not just get good grades that will open more doors for the future. (Teaching Independence.)

Thirdly – and this is the most important one – I didn’t have all the information.

How often do we act – in our professional and our personal lives – before we have all the information? When was the last time you reacted without truly listening?

In this case, I stopped, and texted my daughter a question: “Do you need your student ID to write your exam?” Notice that is an obvious possible assumption, but one she had not told me.

There was no response.

I called her.

No answer.

By now it was 1:00 when the exam was supposed to start. I am now assuming she managed to figure out a way to write the exam without needing her ID.

Result: I continue sipping my coffee, working away and look forward to hearing – when her exam is over — about how she developed a solution.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Where else can you listen more?

More and more we are hearing about the Art of Listening – if we can even hear what is being said. What a crazy oxymoron that is, but it’s true. Listening to get all the facts before deciding how to act is key. There are many other benefits to listening, but here, I’m going to focus on the benefit to YOU.

Here are my Top Five Questions to ask yourself to help you listen more and improve your relationships at work, at home, and wherever you go.

 1. Are you hearing what is actually being said?

What would it take to be sure you actually know what the person you are in conversation with is saying? What else is your mind doing? Are you too busy thinking about what you’re going to say next?

Since training as a coach, I have started asking a LOT more questions… and I mean a lot. And I have been so intrigued by how much I learn when I ask these additional questions.

And this is not just in coaching relationships. This is with everyone, everywhere, about anything. And nine times out of 10 I uncover something I didn’t expect to learn.

Asking questions will help build better relationships with everyone, everywhere, about everythingClick To Tweet

2. What are you making up about what they’re saying?

We make up stories in our heads all the time about what`s really going on. Do you actually know what they’re saying?

Let’s take the “Mom I don’t have my Student ID!” example, what was my daughter actually saying? Yes, she didn’t have her ID, but so what? What does she need it for? Is she going to fail Math because she doesn’t have it? Do I need to get it? Or better yet… does SOMEONE need to go get this ID? Does it have to be me?

What was I making up about this text sent to me in all caps? Conversely, what are you making up about what is being said when people talk to you?

What are you making up about what is being said when people talk to you?Click To Tweet

3. Do you know enough to solve the problem or even respond?

Asking a few more questions before moving into action can be really helpful. This will save you time, energy, and potentially preserve relationships.

I’m sure you can think of a half a dozen comedies where the entire premise was based on misunderstood situations. If they’d only stopped to ask a few more questions the whole situation would have turned out differently!

4. Notice what they’re NOT saying.

What is underneath what is being said? Does the emotion seem rational? What is going on with the person that you know nothing about?

I can guarantee you that no matter what, there is no possible way you can know everything that is going on in your colleague or family member’s head.

So, what is not being said? What are they really upset about? Assume you don’t know the whole story.

5. How can you help them help themselves?

Do you need to launch into action or can you help this individual help themselves?

Whether you’re at work or at home, when someone presents a problem, is it possible that you can ask questions that have them help themselves?

What if you stayed out of it? What if you stayed on the sidelines and asked them questions that helped them gain clarity about what they need next? I bet you’ll come out as having created a solution, with only having asked thoughtful questions, and… for having listened.

So the moral of the story is to:


I challenge you to ask not one, not two, but three more questions next time you want to react to a situation that someone brings to you.

Notice how it changes the dynamic and the intensity of the conversation. Notice how it likely calms your colleague down. Notice how they engage by uncovering the solution for themselves, and notice how you too stay calmer as a result.

The outcome of asking more questions?

Better relationships, more effective conversations, and a conversation that helps the outcome rather than hinders it.

Asking questions will build better relationships and stimulate positive outcomesClick To Tweet

Where have you used questions to enable you to listen more? I’d love to hear. Write them in the comments below or drop me a line.

You can be a better friend, parent or colleague today. Just by listening.

Good luck!
Susan Elford

PR Launchpad Guidebook ABOUT SUSAN ELFORD

Susan Elford is a Leadership Coach and PR Strategist who especially loves to work with women who want it all: a fulfilling career or business while living a full and satisfying life. Susan helps her clients get real about their strengths and celebrate and promote them so they get more of what they want: success at work; success in business & success in life.

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