Counting questions is like counting cards. You have to practice, but if you get good enough, you're almost guaranteed to win.
I was at my best friend's wedding this past weekend and enjoying all the accompanying activities, including the limitless smalltalk. Since my wife couldn't be there, I didn't have anyone to pass questions off to and found myself talking about myself, a lot. On Friday, the groom and my best buddy, Garrett, went home early to prepare for the big day. I stayed out with his entire family and enjoyed catching up with his family. At the end of the night, I hopped out at the hotel and shut the door to Garrett's dad's rental, I started doing what I always do after spending significant time in conversation with anyone besides my wife and my mom: over-analyzing every word I said. Did Garrett's dad hear me curse that one time? Did I get to see everyone? Was that an appropriate topic to talk about (probably not, if you know me)? Did I talk too much about myself?
The realization struck me that I had probably asked more questions to myself in the elevator than I had the entire three hours I spent with Garrett's family. Ironic, because my go-to keynote address as a speaker is about the power of asking questions. That "power" plays a part in every conversation we have as human beings, wedding smalltalk included. Whether you want to be the wedding guest that gets invited to other weddings while at the wedding, or just be a more likable person, the key is in your questions.
More Questions = Better
In 2017, Harvard conducted a study and proved that people who ask more questions in a conversation are more likable. In particular, follow up questions. They used two measures to evaluate responsiveness in the conversations they tracked: an attitudinal measure from a previous study and the number of questions someone asked. Guess what? The more questions a person asked in a conversation, the more likable they were. They showed this both in virtual "get to know you" conversations, as well as speed dating scenarios. Those asking more questions during their dates were more likely to elicit a second date. If you're single and reading this, you're welcome.
More Than Smalltalk
We know questions can get you off Tinder and into at least a second date, but I've even seen their reach extend into my marriage. Every "elevated discussion" my wife and I have results in me thinking, "Why didn't I just ask her _____?" Most often, I was a few questions away from avoiding an entire confrontation. More questions means less confrontation. If you're a student with a teacher you struggle with, asking more questions is your first line of offense when it comes to establishing forward momentum. Do you have a boss who likes to give broad, sweeping expectations and then gets frustrated when you fail to meet their minimally established, grey standards? Ask more questions. We can avoid most disappointing situations by simply asking more questions upfront. And remember, by doing so we are immediately becoming more likable to whoever we are asking those questions too.
Something I did almost subconsciously after getting out of the car was run the numbers on my previous conversation. It was evident without much actual counting that I ended far less sentences with a question mark than I did with any other form of punctuation. It's a simple, but effective test. After your next event or social gathering, ask yourself, "Did I ask or answer more questions?" If it was the latter, remind yourself to follow up next time. Whenever someone finishes describing what they do, where they go to school, or how they know the Groom, ask a follow up question. It may feel forced at first, but relationships take effort.
It is About Your Motives
At the end of the day, the quality and the quantity of your questions matter, but more motives matter more. I truly believe those that ask more questions will become more likable, be more engaging, attract better job offers, and enjoy a myriad of other social benefits. I also believe those that ask more questions will make others feel valued, demonstrate empathy at a higher level, and show validation to those they're speaking with.
I hope you ask more questions in your next conversation, but I also hope you consider why you're doing so.