The Virtue Of The Second Question

After "How Are You?" Is Where The Real Conversation Begins

The conversation between two friends began as usual. “How are you?” one asked the other. The answer came, “It’s been a hard week, but I’m doing okay today.” Then came the response the askee had, unfortunately, come to expect: “Wow. Sorry. Me too. I’m so looking forward to the weekend. I went out for coffee with….”

Photo by Jorge Saavedra on Unsplash

The friend who had asked the first question, like many of us in our generation, had never learned to ask the second question – and the practice of asking the second question is the beginning of empathy – and its companion, friendship.

You Can’t Have Friendship Without Empathy

A colleague of mine, many years ago, defined empathy as “the ability to imaginatively enter into the experience of another.” 

But how can we freely enter the experience of another if we’re tucked safely inside our own feelings, our own experiences, our own worlds, and our own needs – continually (and often unintentionally) turning conversations with friends back to ourselves?

We all want the kind of friendships that feel – powerfully, emotionally, and consistently – deep, lasting, encouraging, helping, supporting, and mutually caring. But how do we get there in our friendships, and help others around us to do the same?

After a few decades of being a friend, and having others be a friend to me, here is a simple tool that can help our conversations with friends become gateways to greater, more lasting connection.

I call it, The Virtue Of The Second Question – and it is a way of conversing that can be learned.