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What is the Most Illuminating Question I Can Ask Someone to Gain Insight About Them?

What is the Most Illuminating Question I Can Ask Someone to Gain Insight About Them?

This was an interesting discussion on Quora recently that centered on determining what single question could be asked of anyone you met in order to gain insight from them. There were a number of different answers posted, ranging from queries about how the person’s life would change if they were suddenly homeless, to how they would choose to live their lives if they were suddenly independently wealthy.

Here are just a few of the questions that people came up with; ones that they believed would give them invaluable insight into another’s personality and life in general:

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  • “What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned along the way?”
  • “What is the best piece of advice you have been given?”
  • “How will you make this world a better place than when you came into it?”
  • “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
  • “What is the craziest belief (the one that fewest educated people will agree with) that you hold? Why do you believe it?”

Asking people what they’ve learned as part of their life’s journey can give you invaluable insight about who they are and where they’ve been: you can tell whether they’ve been through hardships and gained wisdom and insight from them, or whether they’ve become embittered by what they believed to be injustices.

“If You Only Had One ____ Left to Live…”

There’s another question that wasn’t on the Quora list, but might be rather illuminating when speaking to another:

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“If you only had one year/month/week/day to live, how would you spend your time?”

Most of us put things off for later or make plans for the future with the assumption that we have all the time in the world, but if we were suddenly faced with a deadline (no pun intended) for our imminent passing, what would we do? Is the average person so content with their life as it is that they’d continue doing exactly what they’re doing until they drop off? Would they quit their job and go spend their last days at a petting zoo? Or perhaps go to an ashram or convent to attune spiritually before they pass?

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You’ll be able to glean a fair amount about the one you’re talking to by how they answer this question.

Someone who’s living a very jet-setting, high-profile life in the downtown core of a big city might tell you that they’d drop everything and spend their last days catching up on reading and hanging out with their dog, or they might say that they’ll continue working at their job until they fall down dead. What would that tell you in either case? In the first, you might intuit that deep down, they’re very home-loving, peaceful people who are putting on a good game face in a career that isn’t ideal for them. In the second, you may learn that this person absolutely loves what they do and would be happiest keeling over in the middle of a power lunch if it meant they could get one last contract signed.

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That professor of yours who’s normally a bit aloof might take the time to write letters to old friends and acquaintances to say his farewells, and the elderly lady down the road might empty her savings account for a wild, drunken Caribbean “goodbye world!”-fest. Some people are open books and would do exactly as you’d expect if they knew their number was up soon, but I’m guessing that in most cases, you’d be a bit surprised at what lurks inside people’s hearts, tucked away from societal expectations.

In addition to giving you invaluable insight about them, asking this question can actually have some startling effects on the one being asked as well. It’s possible that they hadn’t considered such a possibility: people generally don’t like to think about death, but really taking into consideration the fact that we aren’t going to be around forever can encourage some rather significant life changes, especially in those who aren’t exactly living their dreams.

Many would argue that there is no one, single question that would work for everyone you encounter, and that queries of such depth and magnitude should be tailored to suit the individual instead of generalized like those mentioned above.

What do you think?

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Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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