The Art of the Follow-Up

The Art of the Follow-Up

People tend to tell me things. Friends and family, of course. But also friends of friends, complete strangers at the grocery store, random passerbys on the street. Part of this is I just have one of those faces that tend to remind people of someone else. (“Did anyone ever tell you that you look like [fill in the blank]?”) But part of it is also the art of the follow-up question.

Here is my favorite example. Back when I was living in New York City, my now-husband and I went to a party out in Brooklyn. We shared a cab coming back into the City with a friend of a friend, whom we had just met that night. After we gave our addresses to the cabdriver, she mentioned that she was looking for a new apartment.

“Oh, why?” I asked.

“Because I really don’t like my roommate’s boyfriend,” she responded.

“Why not?” I asked.

“He cheats on her.”

And here’s where the art of the follow-up question comes in: “How do you know?” I asked.

“Because,” she replied, “I slept with him.”

Ah ha.

In this manner, I have learned all sorts of things about people, some really interesting and endearing. Some I’d really rather not know. (But thanks for thinking to share your conception story, guy who lives a few blocks away. You can’t unimagine that.)

With kids, the art of the follow-up question often leads to more innocent, but far stranger, responses.  My daughter is still figuring out how the whole “because” thing works. If I ask her, for instance, “Why don’t you want to put your shoes on?, her response will often be “ Because I don’t want to put my shoes on.” But sometimes, I get stories of her imaginary friend Bubba and his shoes and his mom’s shoes and how they don’t like to wear shoes outside. It may still not be a direct answer to my question, but it’s fun to hear how her mind works and her imagination flows.

With my son in elementary school now, follow-up questions are becoming more important. My daughter will talk for fifteen minutes about her day without taking a breath, but my son needs more prompting. And without prompting, how would I have learned that someone in his class makes him nervous because she said her mom was going to cut his head off? (Of course, once you have the knowledge, you then need to figure out what to do with it. Still working on that one.)

Do people open up to you too? What are some examples from your life? I’d love to hear in the comments.

6 responses to “The Art of the Follow-Up

  1. Wow, that taxi ride conversation is a spinner! I do tend to be more of a listener then a talker so I guess by default people confide in me. It is important to ask follow up questions to help them know I’m listening and understand and (maybe) sympathize, but I also try to hold back from asking too soon since I could be interrupting and want to let them lead where they want to go sometimes!

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  2. I enjoyed this post. I often notice how many people don’t engage in the art of follow up and question-asking in general. I love asking questions and also find that people tend to share their personal stories with me. Connecting that way feels like a gift and makes conversation (and life) so much richer. Thanks for your reflections!

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  3. I’m like you–I am a magnet for more than I want to hear. I recently interviewed someone for an occasional baby sitter job and I had to hear about unsatisfying her, ahem, “private times” with her ex-husband were. But, never worry, her new boyfriend, she told me, is much better in that department. Sigh….

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  4. This is something I’m working on for sure. My blog has helped me come out of my shell but I’ve always been quite introverted and have had a hard time keeping conversations with others (not that I wouldn’t love to be able to hold a conversation!) I’m going to give this follow up question a try! Thanks for the advice!

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