What’s The Secret Of Connecting With Another Soul?

Twenty-five years ago a client asked me to meet with her president for an hour-long lunch. Her president was an industry innovator. But, she told me, the president was also almost wordlessly introverted. She proposed I come prepared with a stockpile of stories to fill the conversational void.

The night before my visit, I talked with my father. He suggested an alternate plan.

My father said there is nothing people like more than to hear the sound of their own voice. Instead of telling amusing anecdotes, he suggested I ask questions.

silver-doctor-ec-gregg-3The next day (at lunch with a reticent president) I asked question after question. The one-hour lunch stretched beyond two, and he talked almost non-stop. He waxed eloquent of his fly fishing hobby. He explored the mysteries of different fly rods. He told tales of the intricacy—and successes and failures—of tying fish flies.

After two and a half hours, he glanced at his watch astonished. He was late for his weekly executive board meeting.

A board member later laughed about that board meeting. He said that the reclusive president practically bubbled with passion about our lunch. He wanted each executive to meet me. He said I was the greatest conversationalist he had ever met.

The thing was, I hadn’t told a story. Not one. I just asked questions.    

Helping someone find their voice

Within each person dwells an inner life. We mostly see their outer shell—their green eyes or narrow nose, their title, or their introverted or extroverted exterior.

But within that shell, hiding just beneath the surface, resides the true person.

Each inner self possesses a treasure trove of wisdom and experience that is longing to express itself; it observes and understands the world with a rich and unique perspective.

Inside every heart is an ache to be heard. But the world is a noisy place; iPods and iPhones—and headlines and headphones—saturate the stage and deafen our ears. There’s no room for another voice.

Every human has an inner voice that aches to be unleashed. We have inarticulate, unformed thoughts that are desperate for expression; there is something deep we wish to communicate, but we can’t find the words.

Until someone asks questions. Questions are the tools of the explorer; they are the treasure maps and flashlights of the heart hunter. By them we find the trails and tunnels into the inner life of another human heart.

Questions unlock that voice in another person. We give them a stage on which to speak. Questions lead to more questions, as a kind of “Encore, encore; we want to hear more.”

And something magical can happen

Every once in a while something magical happens—something almost divine. Our soul touches another soul. We encounter the real inner person.

During my lunch with the president, I asked what he liked so much about tying tiny flies. He paused, as though he had never verbalized this thought before. Then he softly breathed, “I love the perfection, the tiniest of details; I simply love the craft of it.”

His eyes widened in wonder, “I’ve never told this to a soul before. Not even to my wife.”

He saw my shared wonder. Somehow, in some way, something inarticulate from within him was expressed. While simple—tying fish flies—the shared experience of wonder connected us. He had found a voice, an ability to express an inner compelling.

Over the years

He and I began to meet a couple times a year for lunch. He told me of his first love, of getting married, of seeing his children born, of difficulties, and of successes.

He frequently marveled, “I’ve never said this before.” I shared his wonder at his own expressions. Our hearts connected. Not every time, but often.

He began asking me questions. He grew curious about my curiosities. He became fascinated with skiing, while hating the cold. He took interest in my family, though he never met them. He marveled at computers, but he still used a typewriter.

The secret ingredient

Questions can give another person a voice, but they don’t always.

An often forgotten spiritual truth is we must have before we can give. We must be loved before we give love (1 John 4:19); we can only offer comfort with the comfort we’ve been given (2 Cor. 1:4).

It’s an easy to ask questions for our own sake, to think, “My, what a profound question I just asked.” That is, we use them to find our own voice. The only way to really help others find their voice is to let someone else help us find ours first.

The president began asking me questions only after his voice had been heard.

The surest way to find our voice is to let God ask us questions, and answer them back as he listens. Someone once suggested I take every question God asks in scripture, and answer it back to God. I began to make a list.

Attached is a PDF with questions Jesus asks of others. As I’ve answered them back to God, I’ve sensed his attention on me, almost his curiosity at my inner reflections. And when I finally get to the bottom of an issue, I’ve sensed his delight in my wonder.

I’ve connected with God, and it creates in me an almost wordless wonder.

Any questions?

Sam

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  • Christopher Coxe

    Sam; Thanks again for a great message and to remind us of the power of questions. This hit me recently in a big way with a question that God ask’s Job. In verses 40:7-8 God gets Job’s attention and then puts the big question to him.
    “Now prepare yourself as a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: Would you indeed annul My judgement? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?”

    In those two question God required Job to search his heart and answer like a man. Then we need to ask that question of ourselves and answer it. The question really makes you put into focus what you believe and when God or anyone else asks us questions like this we begin to understand that this is a person who cares about the answers. I wonder how many questions are in the old testament.
    Blessings

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Chris,

      WOW! Those are two great questions …. would I condemn God just to justify myself?

      It’s going to take some thinking. Thank you.

      Sam

  • http://www.williamsonfamily.com/sammichele sgwill

    I LOVED this one, Dad. Thank you.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Thanks! You know what this topic means to me.

  • John Hard

    Sam, you are not just firing on all cylinders these days, you have added some cylinders! I especially love the line, “Inside every heart is an ache to be heard.” I want to take that one line into every conversation from now on. I think too, of what my wife and kids would have as an ache in their heart that they are wishing someone would just listen to.

    • John Hard

      BTW, I just noticed in your list of questions Jesus asked, most of them were “why” questions. You can’t answer “why” with a yes or a no. You have to probe deeply to find the answer.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi John,

      (Responding to both comments.) You know, I bet it is hardest for us to listen to family or our closest friends. We think we know them. But there is so much more in each of us that needs to be known. Thanks for that observations.

      Also, Yes! “why” questions are the questions of the heart. But for variation, we can adapt other queries, as in “What about that movie moved you?” and “How did that movie move you?” and “Where were other times that you were so moved?” etc.

      It’s just for variety!

  • Bethany

    As one of those people who doesn’t usually share her voice unless invited, I really relate to this. I know I have a strong desire for people to ask me real questions, to be interested in getting to know my “true person” as you put it, to try to get at my “inner voice,” because I know I won’t share without knowing someone wants to hear.

    Knowing this about myself, I’ve tried to make a practice of asking others the questions I would like to be asked, with sincere interest in their answers. I’d like to get better at it and be more intentional about it, but I’ve been amazed at how people open up and get excited to see me, simply because they sense a sincere interest in who they are and a willingness to listen. We connect with people when we listen rather than fighting for our own voices.

    Thanks for this! This says well what I’ve been pondering for years.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Bethany,

      Three observations. First, it can appear (on the outside) that some people speak their inner voice easily (the extrovert) and others don’t (the introvert). I’ve found this untrue. Often the extrovert is talking and talking, but still doesn’t know how to express this inner voice.

      One of the greatest services we can do for ANYONE (male/female, introvert/extrovert, old/young, believer/non-believer, etc): we can ask questions and become curious, and help them find their voice.

      Second: I’m amazed at how many people DON’T pick up on this. I’ve had relationships (even in my family) where I can ask questions–FOR YEARS!–and they will simply answer–FOR YEARS. And never ask back.

      My response has been to fight for my own voice, but–of course–it doesn’t really work.

      Third. When I’ve told others that they seem not to listen but only to speak, well, they try really hard, but they haven’t found their voice, and soon their trying is just flailing. And soon…they are preaching at us again.

      I believe DEEPLY that what everyone deeply needs is to pour out our hearts to God. It is there that we most deeply find our voice. It is there we can find peace.

      Trying too hard won’t work. We’ve simply got to go to God, let him help us find our voice, and then we can help others. Even when they don’t ask questions back.

      Sam

  • Jeff Andrechyn

    Sam
    I went to a doctor recently and he blew me away because he actually studied my medical history and then he drilled me with questions that revealed some very interesting findings I had never seen about myself. I was so impressed I said “nobody has ever told me that before.” He said well I’m a not just a doctor… I’m a detective who needs to ask the right questions.”

    In the church today there is this saying going around in leadership, “your not really a pastor if your not over 1,000 people.” That is so ridicules. What we need is a 1000 guys like you Sam, asking the right questions.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Let’s see … Jesus had twelve in his congregation. So what does that make him? A loser? I don’t think so.

      I like your image of the detective. Yes, maybe we should all see ourselves as heart detectives, discovering and exploring (and awakening!) the hearts of others.

      Thanks!

      • http://gravatar.com/michaelknowermd michaelknowermd

        Dr. David Allen used to talk about “listening our patients into being.” He also said, “Your patients may not always leave your office having been cured, but they should never leave without being healed.” A physician who asks probing questions may or may not immediately reach a diagnosis, but Jeff knows that he has encountered someone who genuinely cares for him and who will continue standing with him.

  • Christopher Coxe

    The best sales trainer I ever had taught us mostly about asking questions. He taught us to zero in on the fat words of a conversation and then ask open ended questions about what people mean by that. He taught that it took three layers of questions to get to the reality of situation. Needless to say he created his business model after Jesus and he has been wildly successful.

    I remember leaving sales calls higher than a kite because I was able to execute on what he taught me. I learned so much about how I could help that person and company. The same has been true with friends and family. If I stop thinking about what I want to say about myself and start asking questions about them I start seeing that person differently and more deeply.

    Jesus knew what he was doing. How many times did he respond to a question with his own question to diffuse a situation?

    I remember when I first met you that you asked great questions.

  • Bonnie

    I wept. Beautiful!

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Bonnie, thanks for the comment.

      Just curious–and in the spirit of this article–why do you think you were moved? Do you long for this connection with others? Do you long for someone to listen to you? Do you wish for someone to help you find your voice?

      Just curious.

  • http://gravatar.com/berrysimpson berrysimpson

    Well, said, Sam. As an established introvert myself, I won’t give complete answers to a question unless I think the person really cares, unless I think the person has spent time thinking about issues like I have. I’m afraid of how snobish and secretive that sounds, like people have to earn the right to hear my answers.
    Maybe they do.
    But I’ve also learned how walking a hard mountain trail together, or surviving a mission trip, or some other struggle, speeds up the trust process so that we all answer deeper questions sooner.
    So feel free to ask me anything. I’ll give you the full data dump.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Berry,

      I understand the sense of wanting someone to earn the right to hear my answers. Sometimes I also want people to earn the right to give me advice. Have you ever had someone hear five minutes of your story and tell you all you need to do? I feel they haven’t earned that right, they don’t know me enough yet. Questions can help them earn it.

      Thanks

  • http://bradkindercoaching/blog bradkindercoaching

    That is a great message and also serves as a reminder for us all.

  • Amy

    I remember when my mom told me in high school that I talk too much, she told me to ask questions of the other person in a conversation. That moment resonates with me often if I find myself talking for too long, which is often. And now to fit in thoughts as to WHY I should do this is brilliant. And the questions from Jesus — I can’t wait to get started :). Thanks Uncle Sam.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Your mom (my sister) is a smart lady!

  • http://lymanbrown.wordpress.com lymanbrown

    Sam,
    Great post. Loved the point about the president asking questions “only after his voice had been heard.” We all want to matter, we want to count, to be recognized as important. One of the saddest lines in movies is from “On the Waterfront” when Terry (the boxer) says “I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody-”
    We all want to be contenders, sombody that matters, to be heard, to be listened to. Helping someone to find their voice, to be a “contender,” is one of the best blessings we can bestow.
    Thank you Sam, you’re a contender

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Lyman,

      I agree, that is one of the saddest moments in film, that regret, that pain, that sense of loss.

      We need each other. Thanks.

  • Mark Weaver

    This is great Sam…….really good! Sometimes people can be like “hidden treasure”…..and if we look at the “map” that their words and thoughts provide, it takes us to such great treasure. You are a master at this and it’s such a gift…..to everyone you meet. Smilin’ at you…….Mark.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Mark,

      You know how it is sometimes easier to articulate something than to do it.

      Think what the world would be like if we each helped each other find our voice!

  • Bob Cain

    Man! So thoroughly well expressed, working all around the issue you’re raising with great illustration of the points you’re making – as well as – such a great progression of points. To start with a focus on being willing to reconsider the advice you had first received to offering a platform for the other person to have his heart heard, really heard, and then on to making sure the right motive is in place for tapping into the “shared wonder.” This is not just really enjoyable writing, it’s very useful insight. Thanks, Sam.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Bob,

      I really think we need both, a) to actively listen to others (“actively” implies engagement, often with questions, though they aren’t always needed) and b) to have the right motive.

      I think motive is often missing in religious teaching; too often the message is, “Just do it.”

      But motive is very important. I can “just do it” for personal praise and glory, and I’ll simply be a modern day Pharisee–and they weren’t people we want to imitate.

      Thanks.

  • Beth

    This is my passion Sam, to help people find their voice, to help people to share, laugh, cry and talk. To build a trust, once trust is built is interconnects, you find yourself trusting and believing in God more, I find its a process to be able to trust, in talking people unknowingly reveal their heart, and once verbalized there comes a light, living in the light is so much better then living in the dark.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Beth,

      I like how you say, “Once trust is built, it interconnects.” Man! That is so true.

      Have you ever had people give you unsolicited advice when they hardly know you? Don’t you want to say, “Earn the right!” Questions help us earn the right. And…often then we don’t have to give the advice. They figured it out on their own.

      Thanks

  • Tom Johnson

    For those of you that have not been to a “Calling” retreat, there is no place I have seen this concept better carried out than in the small group setting that Gary and Sam frame up for you. It is about being heard, really heard by 3-4 other men. It is an experience like none other! Find one, sign up, GO! You will never regret it. This concept is experenced at such a core and basic level. Until you experence the power of this, you cannot fully understand!

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for saying this. I personally want to SHOUT it. The retreats are powered by a series of questions each person is asked (we call those questions, “exercises” and each person is REALLY listened to.

      It is like no other experience I have ever had.

  • http://gravatar.com/michaelknowermd michaelknowermd

    “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters;
    The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook….
    A plan in the hear of a man is like deep water,
    But a man of understanding draws it out.”

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Doc,

      Great proverbs. Thanks.

      Sometimes it doesn’t always need a man of understanding, just a listening ear and a little less self-importance. :-)

      • http://gravatar.com/michaelknowermd michaelknowermd

        But do those deficient in understanding tend to lead with questions or with cliches? Do they come to fill their bucket or dump their bucket?

  • Timm

    Sam,

    This is terrific fodder for a confessed blabber mouth who wants to be a better listener.

    I met with a friend today, who in his 60s is only recently coming into a deep and meaningful relationship with his Lord–full of religious qualifications that left him empty and bitter for more than a decade before that. What he shared was profound, and I was truly grateful for what the Lord was doing.

    Yet, every time I started to give him an update, or try to relate to him with my own experiences, one of his hands would unconsciously start to shake like a child learning how to wave for the first time…arm on the armrest and waving at the floor…and his eyes would glaze over, with a few “Uh huhs.” I wish I would get obvious “shut up” signals like that more often, because as much as I really did want to hear my own voice, sorting things out for myself, I really did want to hear what he had on his heart.

    Bottom line is that I have been blessed with good listeners in my life and want to do likewise. Listening really is a learned gift, and so I appreciate, very much, your insights.

    I’m looking forward to reading your .pdf questions/answers.

    Thanks, mate.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hey Timm,

      Wow, great personal insight. Having those insights is great fun, isn’t it? (Even when the insight itself can be a little ego shattering.) I love it when that happens.

      Thanks for the great share and the great (terrific) personal application.

      Sam

  • Richard McAlister

    Sam – As always you’ve hit the bull’s eye in interpersonal relationships. Not just with family and friends, but with our Father as well. I remember growing up and my father telling me that as long as I was talking I wasn’t learning. So, for many years I would dummy up and would sit silent. I wish I could say that I learned a lot about life, but I just shrank into the corner. I have “begun” to heal and I talk a lot more; unfortunately not at any depth. I thank God for my wife who is a great questioner and helps me process and get to the heart of the matter. I believe you are the first person other than her that I ever met that had the “gift” of questioning. Like my wife you, a stranger at the time, helped me probe my inner being and even deeper. I am just beginning to learn the “art” of questioning and I want to thank you. Sam, keep mining for that nugget that is hidden in us all. Thanks!

  • http://andrewguyor.wordpress.com Drew

    Sam, the need to be heard is a deeply held value for both Becky and I. You nailed it. I think a lot of professional counseling is someone being paid to ask questions and to listen with empathy. I’m not knocking professional counselors. It’s actually professional counselors that have affirmed this view. We’re so lonely in the soul, so longing for soul to soul connection.

  • http://hometogo232.wordpress.com writerwannabe763

    So often people don’t know really how to ‘communicate’…and so much is a part of listening… often the person is thinking of what ‘they’ want to say next after the other person is finished talking…I downloaded your document to look at more closely..Diane

  • http://kenstewart.wordpress.com kenstewart

    Sam, I love your writing–no question about it!

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