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  • Stevie Bee

Ask, and ye shall receive

I’m wondering whether we might have lost the art of asking after each other. Or, at least losing it fast.


Now, I don’t mean the perfunctory and ubiquitous “Hi, how are you?” That happens enough already especially given people invariably don’t want anything more than an equally perfunctory ‘good’. No, I mean when, say, we meet up with a friend and we are inclined to just start talking about ourselves right at the start instead of asking after each other. We don’t even get a “So, what have you been up to?” anymore. Both friends just launch straight into what’s been happening for themselves. And it’s left me wondering: how do we know people are really showing interest in each other if they don’t occasionally interject with some follow-up questions? How do we know how each of us thinks and feels? The way I see it when we do ask questions, particularly follow-ups, we are showing each other we’re following the conversation and that we’re interested in each other’s thinking and feeling. If we both just speak about ourselves, essentially just blurting it all out, I’m also wondering how we know we’re being heard?

I feel I might be out on a limb on this one, but I do have an uneasy feeling. Maybe you do too?


When I was a lot younger, I remember getting into the habit of asking people things about themselves. I think it was just how it was done in those days. I’m not sure how this happened. Was it the polite thing to do? You asked after someone because it was courteous? As an expression of good manners? Maybe. I do remember picking up on my mum’s way of communicating in conversations, which was ask about others and they’ll ask about you. She trusted they would. And they probably did in her time! One simply never big-noted oneself by launching into a whole lot of “I did this and I did that . . .” That just wasn’t done!

When I embraced co-counselling in the mid-1980s and incorporated a lot of its tenets into my interactions, I noticed it was a natural fit. Co-counselling is based on active listening and, among other things, drawing out what’s often hidden from view by asking the occasional question as needed. Effective modern mediation also relies on active listening, so much so that when one person finishes their allotted timeslot in a session, the other person summarises what that person has just said. And then they swap roles. This continues until they hopefully resolve the issue. Active listening was one way to gauge whether both parties to a dispute were listening to each other. It works because both parties know they’ll get their turn, won’t be interrupted and so can afford to listen to the other person because they’ll get their uninterrupted chance soon enough.

And it became further consolidated in the 1990s when I got into writing, producing and anchoring for radio and, more to the point, interviewing people. Another natural fit. Ask and ye shall indeed receive!

However, in the last decade or so, I’ve become acutely aware that it’s generally not how conversations are conducted anymore. It’s not how people interact. From what I’m seeing and hearing most of us just talk about ourselves. We don’t ask questions of each other. If you think I’m being tendentious or overblown, observe a conversation between two people and see how you go. See how often they ask questions of one another.

Importantly, I’m not suggesting people not talk about themselves. Far from it. I want to encourage it. I like when people engage with each other. For good communication, you want people to do that. It would be a very thin, and probably awkward conversation if they didn’t. However, if we don’t show interest by asking questions, I’m curious about what we have? Do we have effective communication? Do we really get to know one another?

If I’ve got this all wrong, let me know. It’s just what I’m seeing and feeling. Let me know in the comments below.


If people did listen better and ask more questions — which means you do have to listen well — perhaps we could finally begin to prove legendary quotemeister Stephen R. Covey wrong when he argues, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply”.

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I agree with your observations Stevie. I wonder if the lack of conversation skills is exacerbated with so much communication these days revolving around texting and social media posts. Phone calls are getting rarer. Few people seem to know how to have a conversation. I love a good yarn.

I’m thankful that my Nanna and Mum were both great conversationalists. I picked up my skills from them.

I also have to agree with the first commenter about avoiding those who launch into big-noting themselves; then, endless details about themselves. The fastest way to bore someone is to launch into a topic they’ve shown no interest in. It’s the difference between talking to a person and talking at a person!

Stevie Bee
Stevie Bee

Thanks, Kevan. I think texting has replaced a lot of verbal communication. We had no choice before the mobile phone, which is less and less an actual phone; there was a time when we had to actually talk with one another. I also wonder if the focus on the individual, on ‘me’, has skewed our attention to ourselves. While it’s important people share their experiences and lives, the key word is share’. That means taking it in turns, showing genuine interest in each other. It’s not all about you after all, its all about us!



Good post. It's not surprising considering how many people have been raised over the past generation or so. There's a delicate balance between building a child's self-esteem and making them think they're the center of the universe. I was taught to be considerate of others and think of their feelings with regard to anything I said or did. I was taught that bragging was rude, which has made it difficult for me as an independent author to market my books. LOL.

On the other hand, I was also raised to mind my own business, which made me less inclined to ask people about their lives. I figured if they wanted to tell me, they would, but some perceived me as…

Stevie Bee
Stevie Bee

Some astute observations in your writing . . . and some frustrating contradictions, which you freely acknowledge! I think youre right: the key is balance in conversation, otherwise its a one-way street. And I think co-counselling and active listening could be taught; Id welcome personal development class time on them. We could also encourage our innate curiosity of the natural world to be extended to each other. Humans are just as fascinating! In this way we might begin to develop a mutual appreciation of one another.

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