How to connect more to someone with a different conversational style
December 18, 2020 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm a question-asker trying to connect with a non-question-asker, and finding it very hard. Looking for suggestions on how to connect more deeply with someone across this divide of conversational styles.

I’ve always been a social question-asker, and I find that asking and being asked questions is the optimal way for me to converse and get to know someone. Generally I gravitate to people who do the same, and conversation is balanced because both parties show interest and disclose. I'm a curious person and I like curious people.

I’ve been dating someone for a while who does not ask questions. Normally I’d see such a person as incompatible and not waste my time, but... the sexual chemistry is so incredible, like off the charts, and I like him for other reasons, so I want to keep trying!

He is effusive about his feelings for me, and I believe that he cares and is interested. I once mentioned that he didn’t ask questions and he said he was raised not to ask, because it was seen to be nosey. But it’s really hard for me to just talk freely about things the way he does, because I am so unused to someone not asking - it’s hard for me to really believe they are interested if they don’t enquire. I just end up mostly listening and not feeling very known, which is unsatisfying. I am very open, and willing to talk about anything, I just find it hard when not asked.

I am wondering if anyone has had a similar experience, or if YOU are someone who doesn’t ask questions, and if not, why is that? And what goes through your head about the other person if you are not asking them about things? Are there reasons I’m not aware of that people don’t ask questions of people they are close to??

Looking for insight on how to feel more connected without judging or criticising him for not being an asker. I'm trying not to think my way is the only way, but I need some insight or tips.

(A couple of notes - 1. he’s not narcissistic - he shows a lot of care and thought about other people. Also he has some mental health issues / past trauma which I think take up a lot of space in his head. 2. This is not my primary relationship - I have a very fulfilling long-term non-monog primary relationship so this one doesn't need to be perfect, and I'm happy to do more of the listening, just wanting to feel a bit more known.)
posted by beccyjoe to Human Relations (26 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I know some people have a style where they listen to what you say and then add similar story of their own. Would it help to see what he is talking about and view it as an implied question - an invitation to add to the topic with something from your own experience.
posted by metahawk at 11:08 AM on December 18, 2020 [10 favorites]

When I met my husband's family for the first time, they didn't ask me one single question, not even "How was the drive?" or "Did you take the freeway or Route 19?" When my family met my husband for the first time, hoo boy did they rake him over the coals (in a nice way). He was about as nonplussed as I had been when our positions were reversed. Someone later pointed out to me that his family's lack of inquiry might have been their way of showing me I was already one of the family. Maybe your guy feels similarly?
posted by scratch at 11:17 AM on December 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm not a question asker. That conversation style is boring to me. I can't explain why, it just is.

My conversation style is what metahawk explains above. We walk past a bus stop ad with a goat on it, I tell you about a goat I saw once, you tell me about a rude llama at a petting zoo, I tell you a vaguely related thing, you tell me a vaguely related thing, and so on until 30 minutes later we're in an intense argument about whether or not Vice President Glenn Close took the most responsible actions in Air Force One.

I genuinely don't understand how anyone ever gets to talk about anything interesting if you have to wait to be asked.
posted by phunniemee at 11:23 AM on December 18, 2020 [26 favorites]

Like your boyfriend, I don't like asking questions because I don't want to pry or hit a sore spot. I'm very interested in what other people have to say, I'm just trying to be tactful -- and it sounds like your bf is similar.

Maybe think of him sharing a story or a thought as an invitation for you to share your own stories or thoughts. Like if you watch a movie together, and he shares a thought about a character, it's an invitation for you to share your thoughts about the character or another subject he hit on or the movie in general.

My guess is that it's not that he's uninterested, it's that he's implicitly inviting you to share your thoughts and experiences rather than explicitly doing so through direct questions.

To make conversations go more smoothly, maybe listen harder for the invitations or respond to them more consistently/enthusiastically when you do hear them? And try not to take offense if he also hears it as an invitation from you to share his thoughts/experiences when you share yours.
posted by rue72 at 11:25 AM on December 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I too was raised not to ask questions of others in conversation, and it’s been very challenging for me to adapt to this style. I generally operate on the principle that if someone wants to share something with me, they will, and I have a kind of fundamental belief that asking questions of others in conversation is prying, assuming, or even threatening.

I think part of the reason I was raised not to ask questions is because of my dysfunctional family culture which dictated that you don’t share family business outside the home; why would you ask questions of others that might pressure them to share private family business? And, in my family, if you were asked a direct question by a parent, you were In Trouble.

Now, as a grown up, I have lots of people who connect by asking questions. Mostly I don’t mind being asked, but at heart I’m a private person (also with trauma), and sometimes questions feel invasive or disrespectful of my intellectual or emotional privacy, because I never learned the art of dissembling, redirecting, or just not answering questions. But I really have a hard time asking questions of others beyond “how was your day” no matter how hard I try, and I try to be an enthusiastic listener and show my love and care in other ways. I am deeply interested in my loved ones’ interior worlds but that interest is at odds with my belief in their personal right to privacy!
posted by stellaluna at 11:30 AM on December 18, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Not to be indelicate, but as you mentioned the sexual chemistry being so incredible, without asking for details, that might be an indication that he's "listening" to you even if he isn't asking direct questions.

I'm not generally an asker myself, other than the very basics, because it just doesn't make sense to me. Basically, I don't know what to ask about something I don't know, so I just try to listen well instead and pick up context cues.

In conversation with partners or strangers, I rely on trade offs in initiative linked by context. The act of initiating and the give and take of conversing in that manner seems to serve in a similar way to your feelings about questions. Without my conversational partner initiating thoughts, I'm less certain about their interest in any discussion. Lots of questions can sometimes feel evasive in that way, as if they don't want to talk about their thoughts by keeping the talk focused on mine. I often find it takes longer for me to trust someone who asks more than they share for that reason. I guess I think of conversations as sharing more in the sense the giving of thoughts is the present rather than the asking for them.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:41 AM on December 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is an interesting question to me because I have never thought about what my conversational style is or what it might convey to other people. I think I tend to mirror the other parties in the conversation and lean into cues rather than having a single approach, but I admit that I find people who consistently "wait to be asked" a bit exhausting to talk with.
posted by sm1tten at 11:45 AM on December 18, 2020

So I am like you and I do not feel someone is interested in me unless they are asking me questions about what I am saying and trying to learn more etc. If it's a casual aquaintance or colleague or something, okay, fine, I get it, be tactful and don't pry. But if we are in a romantic relationship and I'm telling you something close to my heart and you don't really ever ask me how that made me feel, or what it was like, or what I did in the situation .... And they don't have to be questions, they can be comments! I tell you about a thing with a coworker situation I have complained about for a couple of weeks you can comment that you remember that I tried xyz last week and it doesn't seem to have helped (or whatever). But if a person consistently does not verbally show any fucking sign of engagement with what I'm saying about my experiences, my day, my thoughts about the book I am telling them about that I am reading, whatever ... That just does not feel okay to me. Especially if they happily talk for an hour receptive to questions I ask them about their coworker situation or what they liked about a book, etc.

(I'm not saying everyone has to share my conversational style, nope! But if someone is basically consistently not engaging with what I am saying and turns the conversation back to themselves every time, then .... I am not going to be happy with a close relationship.)

All of that said, I am married to a non-asker and I have done two things:

* Explained that questions, active listening, engagement with what I am saying, deep communication in general is an important part of enjoying a relationship to me, and that lacking it, I'm not happy in the relationship. That there is an emotional labor component to this in terms of being cognizant of how equally we are really listening to and engaging with each other. As a woman who has primarily been in romantic relationships with men, I have experienced the dynamic all too often where they basically want me to play therapist engaging deeply with how they felt about everything from the time they were bullied in 2nd grade to fucking traffic this morning, but don't really reciprocally engage with me about my stuff. I have straight up explained "You understand right that I do not actually give a flying fuck about, say, World of Warcraft, but I am asking questions because I know that you do and I care about what interests you and want you to feel encouraged to share it with me, that I am showing you love by remembering it and commenting on what I remember, etc. and that is what I would like you to reciprocate."

* The above worked well eventually, but a little trick I have is if I am not feeling actively listened to I sort of prod partner with questions. Not like a quiz on what I said, but like, "So I loved this book so much and I know you are also really into fantasy, so I'd love to tell you what I really liked about it and see if you have any recommendations for other authors?" Or, with my spouse, we've been married long enough that I can get away with lightly saying "This is where you ask me why I liked the book so much!" or "This is where you actively sympathize about the situation!" or something, and then he'll take that as an invitation/reminder to engage.
posted by MustangMamaVE at 11:45 AM on December 18, 2020 [11 favorites]

Within the last few years, I moved to a part of the country where almost everyone behaves like this (non-asker) and my husband and I talk about it constantly. I find it insanely rude, but I've never lived around people where a majority of the population behaves this way. It's not even that they don't ask direct questions, it's things like, I'll come back from vacation and someone will either not acknowledge that I've just returned from vacation (they'll jump into talking about themselves) or they'll just be like "Hey you're back." I feel like the polite thing to do it to say "Welcome back! How was the vacation?/Did you have a good time?/We missed you!/etc." -- not necessarily being nosey or prying, just... being polite. The type of question that can be answered with something like "It was great, thanks!" without going into detail if you don't want to.

So what I do is just kind of lean in to the local way of conversing and talk about myself if I want to, and expect to not get asked followup questions. I don't have as deep of relationships with these types of people, I'll be honest, but I'm old enough that I don't really expect to make a lot of new deep friendships these days anyway.
posted by jabes at 12:20 PM on December 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love being asked questions, too! I totally get that!

I am not, however, a question-asker myself by nature. I tend to operate the way that others above have described, taking statements to be in and of themselves sufficient invitations for me and my conversational partners to put in our two cents or relate our experiences relative to the topic at hand.

I have had to learn how to be a little bit extra mindful or conscious/conscientious in my conversational encounters because of this. Like, there's a part of my brain that I've trained now to whisper: "hey, need to ask a question now so that the person you're talking to knows you're interested in hearing what they think!" How did I learn to do that? Because someone I cared about once told me: "It makes me feel special when you ask me questions. I know you're listening to me and that you care about my ideas and experiences, but do you think you could ask me more questions, at least every now and then? It makes me feel sooooo good to be asked a question!"

You said that you "once mentioned that he didn’t ask questions and he said he was raised not to ask, because it was seen to be nosey." I can see how he wouldn't understand that what you were really trying to say is that you want him to ask you more questions! So I'd try to communicate that more directly, if I were you. It sounds like he's a good listener already; I bet if you said explicitly that you want him to ask you more questions, he would ask you more questions!
posted by pinkacademic at 12:26 PM on December 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: These responses are so helpful, thank you everyone!
posted by beccyjoe at 12:44 PM on December 18, 2020

I ask questions to be polite but find it boring. In my intimate relationships I will ask questions in certain situations— someone telling me something emotional or difficult, when I sense they want to be drawn out and figure out what’s going on with them. But in normal casual conversation I am dying for the other person to tell me what’s on their mind, what’s interesting to them, and not make me dig around in the dirt. I want to know You, so I want to know what You find interesting or remarkable.

This is judgemental on some level but in my conscious mind I’m not thinking anything besides “I am bored.” When I get to the point in a conversation where I have to actively ask questions and probe around (and it’s not a sensitive topic) I usually feel the conversation is a failure.

I think it honestly just has to do with personality or brain chemistry or something. I am chattier than my boyfriend and also ask more questions when I sense it’s expected of me. He’s less chatty, needs to be drawn out, and ALSO doesn’t ask a lot of questions. I’m not sure what’s going on there but some people just seem more internally-oriented in that way.

I know my way isn’t the only way but that’s my default mindset.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:58 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Haha, I've had to have relationship-defining conversations with two separate close friends on this very subject. I felt like all they did was talk about themselves and never seemed interested to know more about what's going on for me; meanwhile they felt like I shut them out and never told them anything, no matter how much they tried to show they were available to talk. Wacky!

I came to terms with this by seeing it as just another thing that gets lost in translation when people are trying to connect -- the same as Ask Culture/Guess Culture, and the concept of Love Languages. Like those examples, being able to parse someone's connection tactic can be a learned skill, even if one's preference for one approach or the other feels obvious and innate. The appropriate path to having another person feel comfortable with you (whether just being polite to a co-worker or seeking intimacy with a partner) can look like you showing interest in them by asking questions -- but it can also look like you giving them the space to offer what they feel like sharing.

Knowing that some people are Question Culture and some people are Offer Culture helps me not take it personally anymore when someone doesn't ask me questions. Instead, I remember how hurt and confused my friend was that I wasn't offering any stories about myself in return, and, strange as it feels, replace a question I might have been about to ask with sharing something about myself as though they had just asked me.
posted by Pwoink at 1:42 PM on December 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm not saying I never ask questions, but I'm definitely more of the freeform see-a-goat-and-20-minutes-later-you're-talking-about-Glenn-Close conversationalist. I have a new, lovely friend, and I am trying very hard to ask questions (I just realized because of your question) because she's more like you, I think. It's hard to shift! But... I am a big fan of asking for what you want in a relationship, especially one where you really like someone and have fantastic sexy times together.

I once mentioned that he didn’t ask questions and he said he was raised not to ask, because it was seen to be nosey. But it’s really hard for me to just talk freely about things the way he does, because I am so unused to someone not asking - it’s hard for me to really believe they are interested if they don’t enquire. I just end up mostly listening and not feeling very known, which is unsatisfying. I am very open, and willing to talk about anything, I just find it hard when not asked.
Have you asked him to ask you questions? Or did you just ask him why he doesn't? Because I think you should probably tell him the deal and then do two things: tell him you will try harder not to need to be asked, and also tell him to start asking more. For example:

"So, something about me: it’s really hard for me to just talk freely about things the way you does. You are effusive, and I know you like me, but I am so much more comfortable responding to specific questions. Without questions, I just end up mostly listening and not feeling very known, which is unsatisfying. I am very open, and willing to talk about anything, I just find it hard when not asked. We are having a great time together, and our chemistry is hot. I'm going to try to work on opening up a bit more during our conversations even without questions, and I also would like to ask you to ask me more questions. For example, even just 'How was your day?' would be a great place to start."
posted by bluedaisy at 2:24 PM on December 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Well, this is an interesting, er, question. He may just think it is rude. Sometimes people don't want to answer questions. I would rather people didn't ask me questions, just share what interests them and then I can share back. That's fun. That, I enjoy. Being questioned - no. To give you an example, my boss was asking me some questions about the holidays the other day and I really did not want to get into it because my boss has a really big family and gets along great with everyone in it. She wanted answers along the lines of, I am going to meet all my relatives at such and such place, meet the new baby, etc. That is not my life. I answered her questions to be polite, but could see that my answers were not particularly what she wanted to hear even with me downplaying my family situation and generalizing everything as much as possible. I'd really prefer people would not ask me anything about my personal life, especially if I am only just getting to know them or will never know them well (like my boss).
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 5:50 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe you can get them used to the idea of question asking by making a game of it - like play twenty questions, except that instead of trying to figure out the name of a person, the goal is to find out an interesting fact about you that you are thinking of. You can start them off with a category, like "first times" and then they have to ask questions until they can guess where you had your first kiss, or something like that. Could be fun!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:04 PM on December 18, 2020

if YOU are someone who doesn’t ask questions, and if not, why is that? And what goes through your head about the other person if you are not asking them about things?

When I feel like I'm having a great conversation and really connecting with someone, I feel like there is a lot of flow and back and forth in the conversation. I might ask a question here and there to get the conversation started or past a lull, but if I have to constantly ask questions I'm generally feeling like we aren't really clicking. It feels like things are awkward and the person doesn't want to converse with me if I have to fall back on stereotyped questions like "What are your hobbies? What was your favorite vacation?" and at parties and such I don't ask people "what do you do?" - if someone has an answer it's usually either pretty boring or they are tired of the usual stereotypical questions and wish you hadn't asked that, and has the potential to be awkward.

One things I do is provide openings for people to reveal more about themselves. It's a little hard to explain this as it's very dependent on the context. But I find that this makes it much easier to get to know people than if I have to ask them a question about every little thing -- many times, people will tell you things that they would not say in response to a direct question, because I have revealed something about myself first and they feel safe. Not like being pumped for intel or on a job interview or taking a quiz where I won't like it if they give a wrong answer. Especially true for people one doesn't know well and might like to know more about their attitudes around "controversial" things before getting to know them better.

I'm a curious person and I like curious people

Maybe you would be curious to find out what people will tell you if you leave the floor open for them to reveal themselves slowly, and show you whatever side they choose?

Also, maybe don't judge people who don't converse by asking questions as not being curious.
posted by yohko at 10:14 PM on December 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think the most balanced conversations are a blend of question-asking and non-question-asking. So I don't think that the non-question-askers are somehow better and more interesting and the question-askers are nosy and boring, as some of the answers seem to suggest.

Then again, it would probably be good for people like us (I think I struggle in the same way you do) to get better at volunteering information. I like the tip above about viewing the other person's stories as a sort of implied question.

Perhaps another technique would be, instead of sparking a conversation by asking something like 'how was your day?', perhaps you could say 'I had a really busy day today, this and this happened', and see what sort of response that elicits?

(I'm also going to try these techniques myself!)
posted by iamsuper at 1:05 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is me and my boyfriend. I love to ask questions, he does not. In the first few months I thought it might be a dealbreaker. I told him I felt he wasn’t interested enough in my life and he looked genuinely shocked and hurt. And it’s true, whenever I volunteered information he would always listen attentively and remember it later. I decided to stick with it because we are so right in so many other ways. Now, I still ask him lots of questions and simply volunteer information about myself, as if he did ask me silently, because he is asking me silently. We also both enjoy when I non-judgementally tell him how I want him to react, e.g. this is the part where you comfort me, this is the part where you sympathise with a big hug, without trying to come up with a solution. He loves that, and it’s less necessary to point out the longer we are together (about a year now). I have also learned this his actions show great interest in my life - like when he sends me a meme about a book I mentioned - which encourages me to keep chatting. Maybe it will get easier over time as you get used to your partner?
posted by guessthis at 1:39 AM on December 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

I am an Offerer not an Asker and if I am being honest, I do resent people who wait to be asked a bit. My feeling is that I am bringing my interesting anecdotes and sparkling personality to this conversation — I've thought of some good topics and prepared some good opinions — and now you expect me to excavate yours, too?

My better self knows that this is not the kindest interpretation, but ... it's hard.
posted by dame at 5:03 AM on December 19, 2020 [8 favorites]

Your post really resonated with me. When I talk to people, my policy is that I don't offer much information about myself unless I'm asked. I don't want to bore people who aren't interested in what I have to say. Instead, what happens is that they typically end up boring me. I let people talk about whatever they want, and I engage in active listening (reacting appropriately, asking follow-up questions, pretending I'm fascinated, etc.). But I hate doing this, and I end up feeling some combination of resentful, angry, and bored. As a result of all this, I tend to avoid situations where I have to talk to people. At work, I don't hang out in the break room, I avoid parties whenever possible, etc. I hate to admit this, but I generally find people to be self-centered, rude, shallow, and tiresome.
posted by alex1965 at 7:19 AM on December 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

Another thing to consider: if you so try and adapt to his conversation style, does he respond well? I know that in some conversations with Offerers they will just continue to talk about themselves the whole time. So you’ll volunteer something or tell a story and they will just sort of ignore what you say and turn the conversation back to them.
posted by iamsuper at 7:49 AM on December 19, 2020

Response by poster: THank you so much everyone who responded. What a great community here.

I do want to speak up in defence of the idea that waiting to be asked or asking questions makes one boring. I ask GREAT & interesting questions (not small-talky ones) and with people who are reciprocal question-askers this leads to great, rich, deep conversations. When someone asks and you know they are interested, the conversation takes off, and becomes a dialogue rather than back and forth asking.

I think maybe some of the problem is that my guy doesn't always leave a lot of space for me to talk, and when I do offer something I just don't actually know if he is interested or not, because he doesn't ask for any more information. But maybe he does just believe that I will tell him what I want to tell him and if I'm not telling him it's because I don't want to.

It's really helpful to get the perspective of people who are interested but don't necessarily ask.

And also you've given me some good ideas on how to experiment with the situation.

He is very different to me in so many ways (different age, grew up in a different country and family culture, has lived a very different life...) so it does feel like we exist in different realms. And yet physically / sexually we exist in the same magical realm that is so exhilarating. So it is really worth my trying to connect more conversationally.

Thanks again for the sharing and ideas :)
posted by beccyjoe at 1:16 PM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I kinda got a hint of this in your first post, but on your follow-up I am getting a sense that maybe this guy is talkative about himself but not at all inquisitive about you AND not really leaving you space to respond in kind (as in the example iamsuper gave). It doesn't change anything about my own response -- and maybe it doesn't matter for the purpose of your overall question -- but this whole thread is making me feel rather thoughtful about communication styles.
posted by sm1tten at 3:12 PM on December 19, 2020

He is very different to me in so many ways (different age, grew up in a different country and family culture, has lived a very different life...) so it does feel like we exist in different realms. And yet physically / sexually we exist in the same magical realm that is so exhilarating. So it is really worth my trying to connect more conversationally.

Yes, definitely worth continuing such an exciting sexual connection--if that's what you want right now. If you want a longer term relationship with someone you feel really hears you, at some point, you might want to find someone in the same realm. Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 12:19 PM on December 21, 2020

I see Pwoink has mentioned the Ask- or Guess-Culture categories, surprised more have not mentioned them! I feel the Ask/Guess Culture dilemma is super relevant to your questions, and it's a corollary to the Ask-Questions or Volunteer-Stories categories here. I thought there was one or two good threads on Ask and Guess Culture in metafilter, but there are actually many of them, it's surely related to this and it could be helpful.
posted by panhopticon at 8:51 PM on December 24, 2020

« Older Best Escape Room Puzzles   |   Spray Paint Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.