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How To Use Questions To Change Your Life

If you want a great life, ask great questions. Questions can be catalysts. They’re challenges, inspirations, road maps, and hints of something better.

My first assignment as an FBI undercover agent was to identify a KGB officer who was a member of Russian delegation visiting a Silicon Valley company for six months. The company was involved in a joint venture with the Russian government. Of particular interest to the FBI was the fact that the American company was conducting high tech research. While some aspects of the research could be used for commercial use, there were other aspects that were classified and restricted for use by the U.S. Military.

Therefore, it was no surprise when Oleg showed up among the delegation—click HERE for an earlier post on how I identified Oleg as a KGB officer. The first step in an FBI counterintelligence operation is Identify the Target; there are, however, many levels of identification.

The first level is name, rank, and serial number—little more than a legal description of a person. The second and third levels go much deeper and attempt to more fully identify the spy. The FBI’s goal is to prompt the target of their investigation to answer questions like, “What is the purpose of your life?” and “What is your higher calling?”

Oleg was no longer finding fulfillment or purpose in his life as a KGB officer. The thrill was gone. But what do you think would be my chances of getting an honest and thoughtful answer if I walked up to him and asked, “Hey, Oleg! What is the purpose of your life?”

That is not an answer that is at the tip of most people’s tongues. It takes time to excavate the significance of our own stories and experiences. The most effective way to begin this process is to begin probing with questions. As I stated earlier, questions can be catalysts that hint of something better to be found in us. Most of us find our past experiences help us to recall how our strength and resilience got us through the tough times.

The power of our own stories and experiences can encourage us to move beyond the limits we set around ourselves. We yearn to connect the threads of our life story to help us interpret our present circumstances. Questions can be a magic wand that probes deeply into our mind.

I didn’t fire the following questions at Oleg all at once; but over time, I asked the following:

  • Who is the happiest person you know?
  • Who are the people you like and respect the most? Why?
  • What are you curious about?
  • When does time seem to fly?
  • What bores you?
  • What makes you different from other people or members of your family?
  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • What is in your bucket list of things to do in life?

Questions are entry points into significant conversations about issues, values, and goals that are most important to us. If you want to start a significant conversation, ask a significant question. These questions do not have to be brilliant or well crafted; instead, they need to be from the heart and wrapped in genuine curiosity.

If you start asking yourself questions like these, the answers will quickly uncover whether or not you’re leading the kind of life you want. The truth is, most of us are so busy doing what we think we have to do that we never get around to doing what we really want to do.

Oleg rarely had an answer off the top of his head, but my use of patience, pacing, and timing allowed him to mine deep to find the answer. So many times we ask questions of individuals and then don’t allow them the luxury of moving at their pace. Instead, we expect them to move at our pace.

Give people the time to explore their thoughts and relive their memories. In a fast-paced world, sometimes the greatest luxury in the world is the ability to tell you own story at your own pace. Help them by asking:

  • What does hope feel like?
  • What does courage sound like?
  • What does action look like?
  • How do things get better?

How would you answer these questions? What additional questions would you add? What tips do you have for getting people to open up to you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • http://www.millionwaystosave.com/ Emily Hunter

    When I’m talking with people about their job situation and finding the job that they love, I use the ‘what did you want to be when you grew up?’ question to get a gauge on who they are and where they’re going.  I knew what type of person that I was working with when they said, ‘I’m already grown up’ — others would actually balk and look embarrassed as they regaled me with stories about animals (while they were bartenders).  Thank you for this post. :) 

    • LaRae Quy

      Hi Emily

      The answers we give in our youth tend to be the ones that are most in alignment with our true nature – before we get battered around by the harsh realities of life. As we get older, we tend to offer the answers we think are expected of us instead of what is really inside.

      Thanks, Emily!

  • http://hanofharmony.com/ The Vizier

     Hi LaRae,

    Questions are great ways to uncover the bigger picture.  If we know the right questions to ask, we will get the answers we are looking for.  This can be applied to many areas in our lives.  

    As a problem solver, I have to ask my clients questions in order to help them to resolve the issues they face.  By understanding their situation better, I will know how to approach matters and guide them better.  Often it is an unexpected question that reveals deep and vital insights that contain the answer to the situation.

    Indeed, questions can be catalysts that can show us the way we are looking for.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • LaRae Quy

      Hi Irving the Vizier

      I’m glad you liked the article. Like you, I use questions to help understand the situation better.

      Have a good day.

  • http://Mazzastick.com/ Justin Mazza

    It’s so true LaRae that powerful questions will make us dig a little deeper into what we really want for ourselves at the moment and in our life.

    • LaRae Quy

      Hi Justin

      Sometimes it’s just a matter of taking the time to ask ourselves the really important question instead of acting like we already know the answer!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://Mazzastick.com/ Justin Mazza

    It’s so true LaRae that powerful questions will make us dig a little deeper into what we really want for ourselves at the moment and in our life.

  • Marquita Herald

    I believe in the power of questions, just not sure how well ties into your adventures trying to identify the KGB agent because that’s far from a typical example of the power of questions.

    • LaRae Quy

      Hi Marguita

      The power of questions doesn’t depend upon the situation . . . whether it’s Oleg or your 10 year old son, questions probe the mind in ways that other areas of communication do not.

  • Marquita Herald

    I believe in the power of questions, just not sure how well ties into your adventures trying to identify the KGB agent because that’s far from a typical example of the power of questions.

  • http://twitter.com/janetcallaway Janet Callaway

    LaRae, aloha.  Good to see Oleg back again. Great questions and the patience to allow people time to discover their true answers, will give you the answers you want.

    LaRae, a question I use consistently is “what do you like best about _______?”  What I find is that people give much more thoughtful answers to that than they do the question “what you like least about ______? More often than not, the latter question encourages a rant and a negative spiral. While you can learn from that, I feel you can learn more from the answer to the former question.

    Thanks so much, LaRae. Until next time, aloha. Janet

    • LaRae Quy

      Aloha Janet

      I agree, people respond more openly when given a choice to answer a question from a positive point of view. In fact, I think people in general respond better to positive communication rather than negative . . . it not only obviates the possibility of rants,  a positive approach makes people feel safe enough to they can be more honest.

      Thanks for dropping by.

  • http://scottkantner.com Scott Kantner

    Sometimes I ask, “When you go into a book store, what section do you naturally gravitate towards first?”  This is often a good “gut-level” cue to what they’re most interested in.

    //Scott

    • LaRae Quy

      Hi Scott

      That is really good! And I believe that it’s very true . . . our natural instincts and interests show up in the kind of books we gravitate towards. And those topics are the ones we want to talk about!

  • Mdmoore Marketing

    I learned in a class that it is not important to be able to answer questions but to able to ask good questions, and it is so true! Without asking the right questions you can never find the right answers or get the right information of people.

    Great article, thanks for posting!

    • LaRae Quy

      So glad you liked the article. And sometimes it’s not even a brilliant question but one that is wrapped in genuine interest . . . the brilliancy works itself out in our honest attempt to communicate with others.

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    I think sometimes fear prevents us from asking these questions. It sounds silly, but sometimes it is easier to pretend that you are living the life you want then to suggest that maybe you aren’t.

    • LaRae Quy

      So true, Jack. Hard questions need courage to answer, and many times it’s just easier to pretend things are OK and hope for the best. Of course, ignoring reality never produces real healing and growth.

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  • http://self-help-ideas.blogspot.com/ Self-Help Ideas

    Valuable insights LaRae. Your article speaks to the value of asking open-ended questions and listening in order to gather information. We often spend more time talking past each other than learning about one another.