Teaching Teens the Art of Interpersonal Curiosity
I recently asked my teen daughter how many people at school ever ask questions about her life. It’s astonishingly rare. She tells me maybe one person out of a thousand students demonstrates genuine interest in her. I then asked my college students the same question, and one student cried, “When I’m out with friends, they never ask me one question about myself.” The entire class nodded in agreement.
In my classroom, we talk about the epidemic of loneliness—especially in teens and college students—and how disconnected everyone feels. Young adults long for someone to be curious about them, to draw them out and try to connect deeply through good questions, but instead, most people in their lives stay self-absorbed and self-involved. We can begin to solve this problem by starting with our own hearts to become more interpersonally curious ourselves.
This practice of asking about others matters deeply. The art of interpersonal curiosity—being interested about the lives of other people—serves three amazing purposes: it’s profoundly biblical, it fuels well-being and connection, and it’s the foundation of how to share Christ with our peers. If that weren’t enough, in both my ministry seminars and in my professional development classes at Penn State, I teach that interpersonal curiosity is perhaps the greatest professional skill.
Exhibiting interpersonal curiosity is a way to honor others above ourselves (Romans 12:10), to value others above ourselves and take an interest in them (Philippians 2:3-4), to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and to demonstrate kindness and compassion (Ephesians 4:32). Curious people also live happier lives because they build better and stronger relationships according to the latest research on curiosity.
How do youth leaders and parents teach teens to grow in interpersonal curiosity?
We can start by building the conviction and desire to grow as interpersonally curious people. Ask these questions:
- What questions are you asking others? This question often surfaces patterns of self-focus and self-involvement.
- When was the last time you felt loved by another person in a conversation, and what did that curious person ask you?
- What’s something a conversation with a friend taught you? We can remind teens that every person in their lives has something to teach them, and every person is an expert in something; we have the privilege of discovering this expertise through good questions.
Gain Practical Skills
- Ask the best question: With friends both new and old, I’ve discovered the most loving question to ask someone is this: What question do you wish I would ask you about your life? I encourage young people to discover what people like to talk about, and then ask them about those things.
- Celebrate good news. People love to celebrate their good news, so always ask people what’s going well for them, what they’re celebrating, or what they’re proud of.
- Ask about interests and routines: People also enjoy talking about what they’re learning, what music they’re listening to, what kind of food they like, or even their morning or nighttime routines. These conversations open the door for deeper connection that leads to sharing about our own lives.
- Help friends in distress by asking helpful questions: In times of stress or trauma, teens can bless their friends by asking therapeutic questions that make the other person feel cared for. I’m learning to ask my friends these questions: What thought keeps going through your head that you can’t get rid of? How are you taking care of yourself? What do you do to relax? When we ask loving questions like this, the conversation opens up where we might begin to share our own lives, especially our spiritual lives.
As we seek to share Jesus with others, we often don’t know where to begin. We can start with becoming curious about people and asking the kinds of questions that truly bless them.
Learn more about asking great questions from Holleman’s latest book, Sent: Living a Life that Invites Other to Jesus (Moody, 2020).