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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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