Asking Better Questions

I spend a fair amount of time reading. Beyond that, my ambition is to spend a fair amount of time writing. I do okay there too. Sometimes in between I find myself in the presence of people who are smarter than me. I don’t write that as a way to either belittle or aggrandize myself intellectually, but the fact is that I’m quite fortunate to have ended up where I am. The people I encounter on a routine basis are relatively accomplished in their own ways, and have a lot to offer – whether they realize it or not.

And, whether they realize it or not, I do, and I attempt to make the most of that insight by prying. I will occasionally grasp a teacher’s hand – at the school where I’m so fortunate to exist – over the table during one of our daily communal meals, look them piercingly in the eyeballs, and in all frankness, demand they tell me everything I need to know to be successful in life.

That never happens, actually.

I do frequently engage with them and other folks though – often over lunch – and I’ve made it my task to try to learn from them in conspicuous and not-so-conspicuous ways. Mainly, I’ve learned to ask for book recommendations. In doing this, people present who know me well will roll their eyes, sighing in preparation for my taking hostage any potentially wholesome, all-involving conversation that may have happened.

How does one effectively ask for book recommendations though? It’s easy to be vague here.

So, uh.. Any books worth reading these days?

No. I get a little hemmed-up here sometimes. I’ve often felt like the guy at a café asking a cute barista for her phone number after some trivially unimpressive attempt at a conversation.

I finally devised an effective question for situations like the one with the teacher – still hopelessly unequipped regarding the barista. “Most influential book(s)” doesn’t always apply, that is unless we share careers or at least aspirations. Sometimes this will yield interesting results, but it’s not exactly the bread and butter we’re looking for. “Book(s) you think I should read” doesn’t work unless they know something about us. Even “important book(s)” is hugely subjective and, if they read a lot, they aren’t going to know where to begin. I’ve even tried to utilize a mentor’s question: “Book(s) you’ve given away most frequently,” but depending on who we’re talking to, they may have never given a book away in the first place.

I’ve written enough chatter here. The grand finale is as follows:

“If you could deem one to three books as essential for all people to read, what would they be?”

We could dramatically increase the quality of our lives by learning to ask better questions. This, of course, presupposes that we’re willing to ask them.

Asking Better Questions