Do you sometimes fear that your curiosity in conversations with others is too forward, or even worse — a creepy invasion of their privacy?

One of the best ways you can learn from and connect with others is by asking questions; having a curious mindset. However, clients commonly reveal to me that they fear their questions are going to appear as nosey or invasive. Therefore, they sometimes will refrain from asking any questions at all, which can be construed that they just aren’t interested in their conversation partner.

So how do you know when to ask questions, and when to stop probing? Simply look for a green light. A green light is when someone freely reveals something about him/herself. For instance, if you meet someone and they voluntarily tell you that they recently relocated from California, it is perfectly okay to ask, “What brought you here from California?” Because if they did not want to answer that question, they would not have volunteered that information in the first place. Once you ask your probing follow-up question, pay attention to their non-verbal cues. Are they maintaining good eye contact, open body language, and freely answering your question, or are they glancing away and/or switching to more of a guarded stance (arms crossing, fidgeting with clothing or face), and giving brief answers? Although you will not be able to decipher their non-verbal cues with 100% accuracy, it will be a good indicator of whether or not they feel comfortable answering further questions. If you detect any kind of discomfort, you can help alleviate it by simply offering some information up about yourself, and then changing the subject.

Don’t be tempted to let your curiosity lead you to pepper your conversation partner with so many questions that it feels like they are being gunned down with a machine gun. Remember that your goal is to learn from and increase your connection with someone; and a connection should lead to your conversation partner feeling more comfortable with you rather than feeling like the recipient of an interrogation.

Lastly, it is imperative that your curiosity be pure and without a hidden agenda. For instance, if you begin asking someone questions with the intent to lead them down a path in order to sell them a product or service, or to ask them for a favor, etc., once they discover your agenda, they are likely to feel resentful. The best way to keep your curiosity pure is to refrain from asking leading questions. Rather, simply be curious about them as a person rather than as a prospect or someone who can do something for you. If your primary focus is to learn from them and increase your connection, they will likely welcome the interest and focus you are giving them.