The Art of Asking: How to Make Your Questions a Tool for Understanding and Connection

Everyday, we receive and give questions dozens of times. However, very few of us understand the art of asking.


During today’s breakfast, my grandmother looked me with wary eyes and asked: “When are you going to get married?” Seems perfectly normal – at least to a 24-year-old young lady in the society of Vietnam – but did you know notice the strange thing here? She didn’t care to know my answer. My much beloved and devoted grandmother did not merely ask a question, she expressed an opinion of how a woman’s life should be, and her worry that there was something wrong with mine. That is understandable too. Still, I wish for once she could be genuinely curious about my answer to that question.

When am I going to get married? I don’t know exactly. I will when I’m ready. And why should I know? Why should I put so much attention on a marriage. Is it what life all about for a woman? Stable job, marriage, kids. I have no problem with whoever consider those things important. But, really, there is so much in the offerings of life.

But you see, I will never be honest to my grandmother. I will never say this. Because I know, my answer wasn’t what she wanted. I gave her a smile and silence. And she will never know about the books I read, the adventures I have, the stories I write. As much as I love her, we are in a way strangers. That’s how family members gradually feel estranged from each other. Somewhere along the ride, they lose their curiosity to rediscover, and get to know the other person. This is sad.


The other day my mother asked “Why do you keep turning off the TV news?” with a grumpy tone in her voice. She didn’t care about my reason, did she? She did not want to understand my world. Through the question, she expressed her disapproval of my behaviors. Why? Because they are different from the so-called “normal”. One must listen to the news. One must be updated. Right after tossing me her question, she uttered “You never care about anything.” Her judgment was because I didn’t listen to the news, I was an isolated, incurious person, and my future would be at stake. Again, I wish for once she could be genuinely curious about my viewpoint.

Why should I listen to the news that is turned on during breakfast, lunch or dinner every day? Without listening to them I know nations conflicting with each other; threats of war and atomic bomb; mounting struggle in the Middle East; terrorism and fear; giant corporations battling over our money; poverty, decay environment, corruption, crimes, entertainment nonsense. What else can the news give me? What else can the news give anyone? A sense of relief that our lives are better off than many others? Superficial discontent spilled out from the gentlemen’s mouths when the hard liquor has hit their brain? Fear? A whole lot of distractions? Not to mention these news are controlled, conditioned and edited through so many levels of authority. Yet we lazily swallow them unquestioned as if they are some unerring omniscient voice of God. A population – or should I call civilization – too distracted, lazy, angry, fearful, or bored to think with our own brains, and create positive change.

But you see, I will never say this to my mother. Because I know that’s not what she wants. You can’t speak to people who isn’t attuned. So I gave her a smile, and silence. We, as much as I adore my mother, are somehow strangers under a roof.

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Think about it a little. When you receive this kind of questions, how do you feel? If you are like me, you feel judged. Because judgment and accusation is what these questions are. When you feel judged, you will have fear, you will be defensive, your guard will be up. After that, you will not care to speak out the truth, not dare to show what you really are. Yet, we talk about connection all the time. Connection for what when we can’t be who we are.

In a way I think children make the best therapists because of their non-threatening, non-judgmental, curious way of asking. They ask because they want to know. And they want to know because they didn’t know. That’s the problem with adults. Most of us “grow up” and thought we know. In fact, we don’t. I don’t. You don’t. Our minds are constantly conditioned. Therefore, it needs constant un-conditioning. But you see, most of us are too comfortable with our own way of seeing the world to let go of it.

Next time, observe yourself whenever you ask a question. Try to see it clearly as it is. Find out if what you’ve just uttered is a true question or a judgment. I’ve told myself never ask a question if I don’t genuinely care and attuned. It’s good to have an opinion, and it’s wonderful to express it. However, questions aren’t the tool. Use a definitive sentence instead, be brave!

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- I think all women should get married by the age of 24. That is the only way to happiness and virtue.

But after expressing yours, clearly and directly. Allow others to express theirs:

- What about you? What do you think?

As simple as that. Curiously, non-judgmentally, non-threateningly. Have a suspicion that maybe you are wrong. And for once, want to find out the truth for yourself. Instead of waiting for the news to tell you what to believe.

We use too much probing, leading, manipulative questions to put pressure or deceit on others. Questions should remain pure, innocent, unconditioned. Only then, they become doors to an expanded understanding, fulfilled curiosity, and true connection.

What about you? 

What do you think?