ERP 427: How to Construct Questions That Cultivate Deeper Connection — An Interview with Topaz Adizes

By Posted in - Podcast June 4th, 2024 0 Comments

Fostering genuine connections can feel daunting in a world filled with distractions and surface-level interactions. Many individuals struggle to find the right way to communicate, leading to misunderstandings and emotional distance in relationships.

In this episode, we explore the art of refining communication through strategic question construction. While you can’t control the answers you receive, you can shape them by framing your questions thoughtfully.

Discover practical insights and strategies to cultivate meaningful dialogue and forge authentic bonds with others. Join us on a journey to harness the potential of curiosity and intentionality in your conversations, paving the way for richer, more fulfilling relationships.

Topaz Adizes is an Emmy award-winning writer, director, and experienced design architect. He is an Edmund Hillary fellow and Sundance/Skoll Stories of Change fellow. His works have been selected to Cannes, Sundance, IDFA, and SXSW, featured in New Yorker magazine, Vanity Fair, and the NewYork Times; and have garnered an Emmy for new approaches to documentary and Two World Press photo awards for immersive storytelling and interactive documentary. He is the founder and executive director of the experience design studio The Skin Deep. Topaz studied philosophy at UC Berkeley and Oxford University.

In this episode

05:51 Topaz’s journey from filmmaking to experience design.

10:36 Harnessing the power of intimate questions for better relationships.

14:06 How the quality and nature of questions significantly influence our experiences and outcomes.

17:56 Five key traits of effective questions.

32:28 Cultivating authentic connections through curious inquiry.

38:20 The importance of creating space for meaningful connection.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Start conversations without preconceived agendas, fostering genuine curiosity.
  • Prioritize building trust and intimacy by holding space for vulnerability and exploration.
  • Share personal stories and experiences to foster deeper connections and understanding.
  • Embrace discomfort as a pathway to growth and deeper relational bonds.
  • Practice active listening and undivided attention to cultivate intimacy and responsiveness.
  • Encourage vulnerability and courage in discussions to address grief and navigate challenges together.
  • Utilize resources like online platforms and books to access tools for enhancing relational skills.
  • Measure success in relationships by the depth of engagement and trust established over time.

Mentioned

12 Questions for Love (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

{The And} (videos)

The Skin Deep – Creating The Space To Explore (card decks & shop) Enter in “DRJESSICA” for 15% off (*Affiliate link)

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Connect with Topaz Adizes

Websites: shop.theskindeep.com | topazadizes.com

Facebook: facebook.com/TheSkinDeep

X: twitter.com/the_skindeep?lang=en

YouTube: youtube.com/c/theskindeep/videos

Instagram: instagram.com/the_skindeep

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/theskindeep

TikTok: tiktok.com/@theskindeep?lang=en

Pinterest: pinterest.com/theskindeep

Podcast: topazadizes.com/podcast

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Topaz, it is wonderful to be here with you, and welcome you to the show.

Yeah, Dr. Jessica, it’s exciting. Do you go by Dr. Jessica or just Jessica?

Jessica is perfect. 

Okay, thanks for having me on.

Yeah. This topic is so important, as I was preparing for our interview and just recognizing how this is such a big contributor to the interpersonal dynamic is how we relate, through querying and question and curiosity. You’ve done so much to support just building awareness and giving example and story to how questions can heighten intimacy. I’d love for you to talk a little bit about what got you interested in that, where you’re coming from here, for people who maybe don’t know you.

I guess the reason I’m on your podcast and on many others is because of the work my team and I have done for the last 10 years. My team at The Skin Deep, winning experience design studio, for the last 10 years—we’re now in our 11th year—we’ve been holding the space for a project that we call {The And}. It won an Emmy, went viral, and has a lot of great, wonderful things that happened to it. The most wonderful thing that’s happened is that we’ve really created a space for people to have incredible conversations. 

The book that’s out now, 12 Questions For Love, what’s that about? That’s basically a distillation of what I’ve learned from holding the space and doing {The And} for the last 10 years with 1,200 conversations. {The And} speaks about the space between. {The And} is about how to illuminate the threads of our connection. Because the relationship is not you, or I, us, or them. It’s you and I. It’s us and them. It’s the “and” that connects us, it’s the space between. 

So how do we do that? Well, we break two people in a room. They’re facing each other. There’s a low table between them where we put questions, and one at a time, they take a question and they ask each other these questions. We film it with three cameras. One is a wide-shot, so you see them in profile, and the other two are close-ups. So you see their faces at the same time in close-up. We’re always sharing either a bi-panel or a triptych. So you’re always seeing the speaker and the listener at the same time. We’ve been doing that for 10 years, we’re now in our 11th year, and we’ve learned a lot. So everything I was speaking about comes from my experience holding that space.

What prompted this project, if you’re open to sharing?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m open to sharing everything. I think I was, for many years, a filmmaker, a film director. I made a lot of different kinds of films, mostly critical. Not really commercially Hollywood successful films, more critical films. I went to festivals and I had small niche audiences. 

One day I was looking around, and someone wanted me to make a documentary film about why good-looking people get ahead. He was actually out of Boulder, or used to live. I said, okay. As a filmmaker, if someone has money and they want to make something, you’re like: Great, wonderful! Let me take those funds and actually apply it to something that’s really interesting. So he came back to us and said: Look, what’s really interesting, what’s really happening is that the emotional experience of being human is shifting in lieu of digital technology. This was in 2013. 

Free Cheerful young couple in casual clothes and backpacks cuddling and smiling while taking selfie on mobile phone during trekking in green forest Stock Photo

“We are changing the way we’re relating to each other. The technologies are enabling different ways of relating, of identifying, of exploration.”

I mean, you and I are having this conversation now, and we’re in two different places. I’ve been doing this podcast, you’ve been doing a podcast, we can relate and find other people. It’s not so much physically proximate based, it’s not dependent on where you physically are. It might be dependent on where you emotionally are at, what your interests are, what your passions are, what you’re exploring. 

Anyhow, things are shifting, so how is the emotional experience of being alive shifting? I said, that’s what’s interesting. So let’s create an experience design studio, and let’s explore that question. One of the projects that we launched was {The And}, which is our most famous, most popular flagship experience, which is huge learning for me. 

But that’s where it came up, that we are in a tidal wave of change because of technology and WhatsApp. To ask if social media is good or bad, which is an old question, it’s just an irrelevant question. The question to ask is, what are we doing about it? What conscientiously am I doing in the relationships in my life, and the relation with myself, to shape my own future? To help facilitate my children’s future, my community’s future, my friends and my family’s future? Because future generations are going to be behaving differently. What can we do as small increments now to bring more conscientiousness to future relationships? I’m talking about that, as an organization, that’s what we ask ourselves at The Skin Deep. That’s what has been our endeavor for the last 10 or 11 years. 

Well, again, I had mentioned to you before we started recording that I had actually come across {The And} and the videos and the documentary that you all were featuring and producing, and I was so moved and touched. I was sharing it with people I was working with and giving example to. This is, as you’re talking about, a broader scope in the collective consciousness around a tidal wave of change. And being able to feature, showcase, and really give example to the power of these type of intimate questions that foster connection, is critical. It’s so human. Yet, if we’re in the modern pace of life, we can lose touch with. So it seems as though you’re really putting us front and center helping people really engage and be mindful and intentional about how to do that. Is that my understanding? 

In preparation for this podcast, I listened to your other podcasts, and a similarity I found in all the conversations is our ability to communicate. Whatever the issue is, how are we communicating? So my question is, where do we learn how to communicate? Where do we learn how to have deeper conversations that explore our relationship, that explore our connection? We learn that in our families, by modeling in our families, or maybe in our friend groups. I’ve been fortunate enough for the last 10 years to hold a space of all kinds of relationships: old grandparents with their grandchildren, best friends, lovers, ex-lovers, polyamorous couples, or not even couples, groups. But intimate conversation, and I’ve seen what works. In some sense, I’ve had my own course, and that’s what I’m trying to share here. 

It ultimately comes down to two things, in my opinion. One is the space, that you create the space. For example, what I love about your podcast is that before, as the audience comes, you always ground them in the space; you ask them to breathe, you slow down. You are creating a space to connect with yourself, and then taking what you’re listening and reflecting your own life and seeing how it applies. But you are setting the space by asking them to breathe, and you do that in all your episodes that I have listened to. I think you are creating a space by doing that. 

The second key thing is to ask well-constructed questions. I was listening to one of your podcasts when you had the two doctors, de Bruin and Lisa Palmer-Olsen. They talked about how in their sessions with the family, they mentioned how we’ll bring the family together and then we’ll just ask one question, and then we’ll see where it goes. That one question is fundamental. How do you construct good questions? For the last 10 years, I can tell you now, how to construct good questions in the context of relationships. I can also talk about how to make good questions to ask yourself when you’re stymied, when you’re challenged. On a profound level—you hear this a lot, Esther Perel says it and a lot of other people—the quality of your life is dependent on the quality of relationships. Well, then how do you have good relationships? One way is the conversations you have. Well, then how do you have good conversations? You create the space of inquiry to ask really well-constructed questions. You do that, you have better conversations. Better conversations, better relationships. Better relationships, better quality of life.

Oh, my goodness. It’s reminding me of an interview that I did with a phenomenologist that worked at a university, and she was studying about language and how it steers our behavior, it steers our experience. I often find myself identifying. I can’t remember how I’ve phrased it or how maybe I’ve heard other people phrase it. But the solutions or the information that we get is so relevant to the quality of the question, so much of what we’re asking dictates what we’re experiencing. You’re really focusing on relationship, thank you, and this is critical. 

So talk to us a little bit about construction. Because some people have the intention to be intimate, but get caught up in these predetermined scripts. Talk to us here.

Yeah, so much here. So let’s first just ground in what you said, which was, I just realized: a race is shaped by the course that it’s run on. If you’re in a lap pool, it’s one thing. If you’re in a car and it’s going through curves, there’s curves, you’ve got to slow down. The race is shaped by the course it’s run on. In very much the same way, an answer is shaped by the question that is asked. If you ask a binary question, yes/no answer, you’re going to get a yes/no. Do you love me? Yes, or no? That’s what you’re gonna get. If you say why do you love me, how do you love me, what is my love for you like? That question is not allowing for yes/no. It’s not asking for yes/no. It’s asking for more nuance. If you ask, why do we fight so much, you will get a list of why you fight so much. Your brain is built to protect you, therefore it will serve, and it will give you every answer it wants. 

You’re saying what is the problem, and your brain will give you lots of reasons why there’s a problem.

Exactly, so you’re shaping a litany of lists. Is that going to really give you a sense of empowerment and agency in action? What if you ask, what is our biggest conflict right now, and what is it teaching us? Why do I feel that we have many conflicts, what’s the lesson in that? You’re shaping a different answer. But we are asking ourselves questions all the time. You wake up in the morning and you go: Oh shit, I have to do that! Okay, well, that thought came because you had a thought of a question. It was a question that said, what do I have to do today? The answer was, I’ve got to do that. If you instead say, even if I have a packed day of conflict and tension, what’s the hidden lesson here? 

So we are always asking ourselves questions all the time. Don’t focus on the answer, focus on the question, then you get a different answer, a different possibility. I just wanted to ground that, because that’s a fundamental thing that I’ve seen and I’ve witnessed. I bring that in my own life, but I see that in the conversations.

Thank you. One is so restrictive, and one is so reaching and giving possibility. Even as you described this, Topaz, my body sensation, and how I feel when I focus on just problems versus what’s the learning, what is here for us to look at. I mean, it’s just qualitatively entirely different.

It’s a paradigm shift. The response you get is shaped by the question you ask. 

Free Cheerful young African American couple in stylish hoodies communicating and drinking coffee while resting on comfortable couch with cute bed Stock Photo

“You cannot control the answer you get. But what you can do is control the question you ask, and that will shape the answers that comes back. Another way of saying that is that the questions you ask will shape the possibilities that are presented to you, and therefore, the reality of what you can create.”

But there’s five things we’ve seen, in the context of a relationship. You’re asking your partner, your brother, your best friend, your father, anybody that you’re intimate with, not just romantic, that you’re in relationship with, even your co-worker. There’s five traits that you can add to the question to really improve it. You don’t have to do all five. But if you add these things, it will make it a better question. 

So the first we touched on was, don’t make it a binary question. That’ll just end right there. Yes or no? Open-ended, how, why. The second one, and we talked about that too, is to shape the question such that it’s empowering. I mean, why do you want to ask something that’s going to lead you to feel disempowered or upset even more? Like, how do we shape this as an empowering conversation? So I sense a great deal of conflict with you, why do you think I feel that way? Now you’re putting them in your shoes. That’s another part of the quality of a good question. I guess what I’m saying is, see if you can shape the question so that it’s going to have a constructive end, so that then we can explore and that it doesn’t send us towards the mud. Not that the mud is a bad place, but I just can’t think of a good word to use.

It’s the only place. It’s like you said, we are pre-dispositioned to be a little bit more negatively biased in this survival tendency to mitigate problems, so we focus on negative. But we’re looking and not giving credit to what is also true.

So how can you shape the question, so it leads you to an empowering? Third one is really important, and this one people often miss. You want to ask a question that acknowledges the relationship with the person you’re speaking to, I call it a connective question. What I mean by that is, if I asked you Jessica, what scares you the most? And your best friend says Jessica, what scares you the most? And the barista where you get your coffee says: Hey, Jessica, what scares you the most? You’re going to answer the question the same. It’s the same. Snakes scare me the most, I’m just frightened of snakes. So me on the podcast, and your partner, your best friend, and the barista stranger asks you, you’re going to answer the same. The question does not acknowledge the relationship, the conversation you’re in. If I say, Jessica, what do you think scares us the most? Now you’ll answer that question a little differently when I ask it than when your best friend asks it and the barista asks it. Because you have to think about the relationship, who’s the other person? So ask questions that acknowledge the connection. We don’t do that. 

One of the 36 questions we talked about early on, before we started recording, because you referred to that. If you look at that, very few of those questions actually acknowledge the person asking. What do you think about love? Well, you can go on five dates, get asked that question, you answer the same thing. You go on five date and the question goes, how do you think we think about love differently or the same? You will answer that question differently, because you’re with five different people. So ask questions that acknowledge the connection.

That’s so key. I just think it’s really important because particularly in cultures that are a little bit more independently focused, it’s so self-referential. So to really be attentive and aware, it is a paradigm and it opens up so much more space. To even be given credit and language, as you’re mentioning, offers so much more information. When we’re intending to be relating and more intimate, that’s really fundamental. 

Well, let’s even talk about the point you mentioned, that everything is so self-referential, and that we’re in a society now where it’s somewhat narcissistic. I mean, our social medias, in my opinion, breeze a type of narcissism, even in the technology of how it is presented, because you’re filming yourself. It’s a selfie, it’s about yourself. If you ask a question that acknowledges your connection, the person asking the question, who’s now going to be listening to the answer, is way more invested. Because if I go, what does love mean to you, you’re going drift off. It’s like, now I’m listening to a monologue, and they practiced this. It’s not about us, it’s about them. 

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“Frankly, if you’re not going to listen to something that’s about you, then you want to at least listen to something that you’re involved in. So let’s talk about us. Because at least I’m part of that, and it’s more interesting. So in this culture where we are always worrying about ourselves, it’s a more inviting conversation to have when it involves both of you.”

To your earlier point, we don’t live in a vacuum; we are existing in relationship. So to ignore that is perhaps, again, neglecting a lot of layers here.

An opportunity. There are so many nutrients, there are so many minerals, there’s so much energy to be found in your intimate relationships. The irony is that those are the ones we take for granted, because they’re so close, and we think we know everyone around us. Because we’re built to survive, so you go into comfort mode, whatever is comfort. Therefore, Jessica is always like this, Topaz is always doing this. I’m not going to ask them this question because I know the answer. We always have this pattern conversation. Our relationship is this pattern. When we go on date night, we automate, because that makes it comfortable and that makes it safe. So it’s much easier, which also means less pay-off. 

So first, let’s make a distinction between safety and discomfort, or safety and comfort. Safety and comfort are not the same. You can be safe and totally uncomfortable, great. Because on the flip side of discomfort is growth and learning. So you’re the loving partner, you have mutual trust and respect. You both have the same intention. You know they’re not there to hurt you. Let’s lean into discomfort. There’s a little bit of tension, there’s a conflict, or let’s do this thing that we haven’t done before and explore. It’s okay, it’s good, because we’re going to learn and grow. It’s there that we’re going to reap the nutrients and the minerals that I’m talking about in a relationship. It’s like when you have that big fight that came up, however it comes up, but then you have a make-up after, and you feel recharged. Make-up sex, or make-up dinner, or whatever it is, you have that make-up moment and you get fueled with energy. Even though it was an hour ago, so bad, and it was so uncomfortable. But what is that energy? That’s because we’ve just pulled on the heartstrings of our connection, and it has given us energy back now, because we know our relationship is that much stronger. We know we’re that much resilient.

Yes, we’ve tested the boundaries, we’ve expanded. Even individually, perhaps there’s places, I’ll just own it myself that if I am feeling conflict with my significant other, and I’m feeling fear, and maybe I become aware of it, and then I approach my husband with something that’s scary or hard to say, then what can come through that difficult conversation is new terrain. Or I’m able to live more like, we’ve worked through it, and now there’s learning, and now I know how to take care of myself or whatever the thing is. And I also know how we can support each other, and we’ve basically expanded our capacity to function together in a way that hopefully offers healing and connection and more trust, and all the things that come from working together.

I think a key part of that was, when you want to go to your significant other and have a conversation, you have to create the space. If you come to them and you tell them out of the blue, why do you love me, or you ask them, why do you love me? Your significant other is not wondering why they love you, they’re wondering why are you asking the question. What is the context? Where is this coming from? Or the flipside is if you come home, and you tell your significant, I love you so much because of this, this, and this. They’re not really receiving it, because they’re wondering, where’s this coming from, where’s the context? We have to build context first, so that it gives us the freedom, the permission, to give and to receive. 

Oftentimes, in relationships, we wait until we can’t eat the pain, so we have to have the talk; we’ve got to talk. Nobody likes hearing in relationship, the words “we’ve got to talk” from their partner or significant other or best friend or anyone. Because they’re like: Oh shit, we’re going to have to step into that. So how do you create the space? You say: Hey, I want to have a conversation with you, and it’s going to be a game. Or we’re going to do 12 questions each for love. Or we’re going to play this experiment, and we’re going to make up random questions. 

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“This is why road trips are great places to have conversations, because in some sense, it’s a space. We’re in the car, and if you don’t listen to the radio or a podcast, and you’re just there, there’s nowhere to go. There’s very little distractions. And all of a sudden, you can have these epic conversations, because the space has been created.”

I want to give people some example here. So just to recap, I know you have a couple more, and we’ll get to those. So open-ended, help me.

Oh, so make your questions open-ended, not binary. Two is make them constructive, we want them to be constructive. Third is we want to make them acknowledge the person asking the question. Now fourth one, I know we went around, but the fourth one would be, make it an interesting question that connects two disparate ideas that we don’t often ask. How does our conflict make us better? We don’t often think conflict makes us better. Another good question I like, or similar is, how does our effort to make money, what does it cost us? What is our mutual dream costing us? Or what are we losing from the pursuit of our mutual dream? What are we gaining from the things we’re not doing? Asking questions that connect two different things that we don’t usually connect. Then your mind, again, which is built to protect you, therefore, it’s a servant dog that just chases any stick you throw. The stick is the question, and it just will find the answer. So you’re asking a question that you haven’t asked before, or you haven’t spent much time asking, because it’s two different ideas you don’t usually put together. Then you find new connections, new relationships, new ideas. What are we gaining by the things we’re not doing together? What are we losing from the things we are? What’s the one truth we hate telling ourselves? What’s the one lie we love telling ourselves? 

The flip side of that is asking a question that puts you or the other person in someone else’s shoes. Jessica, what do you think is the hardest thing being your friend? So now to answer that question, you’ve got to go and think about your friends and put yourself in their shoes, looking at you and seeing how it feels for them. It creates more empathy, sympathy. 

Is that the fifth one?

No, so the fourth one is just connect things that are not usually together, which is either two different ideas or putting yourself in other people’s shoes.

Okay, I can feel people’s brain kind of go, ooh!

I know, this is where I have to get much better at. 

No, no, this is great. No, not the summary, more out of the putting disparate things together, the and. Because I loved what you were inviting, and I think it’s a little bit more common in the couple’s space around people who are helping people navigate relationship. Like, what is the curriculum of this disagreement teaching us are? How can we learn, and what can we learn from this? That’s something people have heard probably before. But what you’re describing here is if we’re promoting, oh our vision, what’s the cost of that vision? Or just giving some space for what is the expense of the thing that we’re excited about, and really, that feels positive? Then also, to your point, about just being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes. These are different mental exercises that give more scope to the conversation and the question.

One of my favorites is more for the individual. What’s your favorite memory from your worst relationship? It’s like, ooh, really?

Yes, just even the question!

Yes, you go there and wait one second, pause for thought. 

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“That’s exactly the idea, is create questions that create pause for thought. Because then your mind has to connect two different ideas that it hasn’t before, and that’s where a lot of learning can occur.”

The last one is simply, don’t bring agendas to the question. In a lot of our relationships, we ask questions. I mean, we’ve all been in a situation where someone asked you a question, and you could feel they already know the answer. You’re in a chess game, where they’re asking you a question that set you up for a response, and you don’t want to answer it. You’re not wondering about the question; you’re wondering about the chess match. I have a lawyer friend, and in their industry, they have a statement they say, don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to. But what’s the point of that? Then you’re not really in conversation, there’s something else going on, and whoever you’re talking to can feel that? So what kind of invitation are you inviting them to if you have an agenda? If you have an agenda, there’s a different kind of conversation to have. But I’m talking about having cathartic conversation that will illuminate and explore your relationship, that maybe goes into discomfort or not. But either way, it’s a place of exploration and deepening. Those are the five aspects that make a good question. You can add all of them, some of them, but that’ll help deepen the questions.

There’s so much depth to this. It’s almost as if my experience of engaging in this type of question and intimate relating is, I have no idea what’s going to come from it. Like, when you’re saying having an agenda, that if I ask a very pointed question and I have an issue, through neuroception—this ability to perceive each other’s facial expressions, their nonverbals, their tone of voice—we’re pretty skilled at recognizing that this isn’t just a neutral zone, there’s an issue to be had and there’s a pointed question, when someone has that agenda. But when we can be really curious and not have an agenda and be very open, I almost feel like when you’re talking about these disparate and bringing them together and asking the question, or from different perspectives, I almost feel like the new neural pathways are getting created, as you’re describing.

Also, you were speaking to context, and I wonder if context fits with that fifth of not having an agenda. That when it’s not clear, let’s say there has been static about a certain topic in the past and somebody is trying to approach it. Let’s say it’s about finances or something, and let’s say the person asking the question has an intention to be neutral. But the person on the receiving end is like: Oh, I know this one. How do you create context? One of the things you’re saying, I know sometimes this can be very disarming, is to give a little bit of reveal around, well, here’s where this question is coming from, or here’s what’s behind the question. Can you give some examples around context here?

Here’s an example. Look, sometimes you have a question and you go, why’d you hurt me? You’re hurt, and you’re upset, and you really want to sort it out. So you’re coming at them with a question with an agenda of like, I’m hurt and I want to know why you hurt me, and I want to put you against the wall and get an answer, and I really want an apology. That kind of energy, that kind of emotion. So how do you create a question from that emotional state, if you will, a state where you can make it without an agenda, and you tap into your curiosity. Here’s a person you’re in some type of relationship with, they did something that hurt you, or that you feel hurt by. Take a pause and find the curiosity in you, which could be rooted in the pain. I’m hurt by that, so I’m curious. Sure, you can be curious about why it hurt you, that’s another question you can think about. But tap into the curiosity in you of why they did that. 

So when somebody says, why do you hurt me so much? You should go, let me find the curiosity. So I really want to know why you’re hurt. Because I thought we had a great relationship, or I thought we’re in love, or I thought that we’re building a mutual respect, and I want to be curious. I’ve done this before. Because I’m a heated individual, I feel a lot of emotions; I’m passionate, I’m very intense. So take a pause, and go, where’s your curiosity here? Even put it into the language of the question? I’m really curious here, why I feel so hurt by that action and why you did that? Maybe it’s not so much in the words as it is in terms of the tone that you say it in. But tapping into your own curiosity as to why that happened, because that’s different than a pointed finger. 

Free Two Men Being Affectionate Stock Photo

“You cannot get someone to step out of a corner. If they’re in the corner, they’ve got their hands up, they’re protecting. You have to offer a question that’s in the middle of the living room, that’s in the middle of the space that they can step into. But not push them against the wall.”

Yeah. So another example, potentially, I don’t know if you would feel like this fits, is: “I noticed I’m feeling a lot of hurt about this circumstance, and I’m making up a story about it, and I know I don’t really want to do that. I also realize you have an experience. Can you help me with what was happening for you or what was going on for you when we engaged in that interaction? Or why you chose X, Y, and Z?” Just to have some element of suspending that judgment, to be in curiosity that gives space and room for someone to show up.

Here’s an example of a question that you could ask that in. I’m feeling really hurt, and I’d like to ask you, why do you think I’m feeling really hurt about it? That puts them in your shoes, and that makes it about you versus about why they did it, so they’re not on defense. Then they have to be like, well, you’re overreacting. So I’m overreacting, but I feel this. Let me see what you could then ask, to continue asking another question.

Well, then why do you think I feel this way? I feel disappointed about what you did; why do you think I do? Why do you think I feel disappointed? I’m saying, obviously the tone, you could take those same words and do it in a really aggressive way, so that it does push them. But I guess it’s trying to tap into the curiosity and shape the question that invites them into the space versus pushing them against the wall. Because you’re not going to explore something more when they’re pushed against the wall, and the only way to really do that is to tap into your curiosity as to why it’s going on.

No kidding, thank you! Is there more you want to say about context? Because I think you were saying if somebody is surprised, or they’re in midstream cooking dinner and they’re not necessarily really prepared, how do you set the stage for this?

So here’s where I’m going to give a cheap plug for my stuff. So we have these card games. We have 12 editions of the card games, for all kinds of different relationships, feeling to them using their cell phone to play by yourself. We’re friends. This is such a great way to create the space. Because: Hey Jessica, I’ve got a game here, let’s play a game. It’s a game. Let’s ask each other questions, and there’s really well constructed questions here. That’s as easy as it can be. 

A game is something that you want to play. But it has boundaries, because any game you play has rules. In our case, the rule is, you have to ask every question, but you don’t have to answer anything you don’t want; you can pass on advance. What’s key is that we ask the question. Because even if we don’t articulate to each other what the answer is, believe me, you’re thinking about the answer, and I’m thinking about the answer. I’m thinking about what I would say. I’m thinking about what you’d say. Even if we say we’ll talk about it later, it’s still happening in our heads; the brain is already working. And what’s most fundamental, even if the conversation isn’t articulated, or if it is and we don’t have to get to an answer, nothing is about getting to the answer. But we’re in this space together, and we are building the resilience and the trust that comes from sitting in discomfort together, or sitting in exploration together, by asking the question. We’re there together. 

I know you have a lot of couples’ therapy work, which can be very helpful, especially in untangling things and guiding people. But what is beneficial here is that the two people in relationships are creating the space and holding the space, versus when you’re going to a therapist and they’re holding the space and they’re guiding. This is a different kind of practice. It’s not exclusive, it’s for different functions. I myself have gone to a couples’ therapist and find it super helpful. But it’s for different things. The exercise here is, can we be together and hold a space in exploration and conversation together? Just us. That is actually more important than any answer you get out of the conversation. It’s the ability to hold space and sit through it and explore it together.

Yes, this undivided attention. I mean, this is what we’re typically wanting, is to feel responded to in relationship, to feel seen, to feel some understanding, to feel able to understand and see. This is the intimacy practice in holding this space. To your point, when people can hold this and be in this, it’s probably, I would say, self-fulfilling. It’s rewarding, and people want to work with it. They want more of it. They want to build on it. Is that your experience?

1,000%. Let’s take my dad for an example. My dad is an incredible soul. Oh my God, he’s 86 now, and that guy has lived a life and he’s such a deep soul. He’s super-intelligent and well-versed and read. When I first did {The And}, he’s like: “I don’t get it, Topaz. I don’t get it.” Then we had a live show. He came. He was like, I don’t get it. I still don’t get it. I’m like, really? He’s like, yeah I don’t get it. Then finally, I brought him to have a conversation in {The And}, in the space, and he actually goes: “Oh my God, I get it now. This is amazing, because I would never have had a conversation with you if it wasn’t for those questions in the space.” 

Even for me who’s been doing this, a year ago, it’s up on YouTube, it’s a conversation I had with one of my good friends, Justin. I’ve known him for about 16 or 17 years. Now I’ve been through hours, I don’t know how many hours of watching conversations, being in the space directing it. I did two that are online with my father. I went and did one with Justin, who’s my friend. And I was blown away by the experience. The conversation was so deep, we laughed and we cried, and it was real, and it was there. We’ve even had conversations like that before, but there was something. Because there were new questions. I didn’t write the questions, at the time someone on our team wrote those questions. So every question was a surprise for us, for me. I was taken on the journey, and it was amazing. Even I who’s been there watching it, I was surprised and move. It comes down to the space and the quality of the questions.

And the willingness to show up in the unknown, and what can be created out of that. 

Exactly, that’s what I mean by the nutrients. They’re all around us. They’re right there, we just have to access them. There might be a little bit of discomfort to accessing them, but there’s that bigger payoff. If you look at relationships, how many times do we go to a restaurant where you see a couple or a family, and they’re scrolling on their iPhones? All the time. Now what’s happening there, in my opinion, is that they’re all getting small, quick dopamine hits for every new piece of information, whether it’s a scroll through Instagram or a WhatsApp message or email, whatever it is. It’s the small nuggets of dopamine hits, because you get a new piece of information. It’s short-term. So what I’m suggesting is if you put that aside, and you invest it by asking slightly better questions, create a space for inquiry to explore that, the dopamine hit you’re going to get is going to be much bigger, exponentially bigger than the 10 or 30 small ones you got. It’s just going to come after 10 minutes. It’s going to come after 15 or 20 minutes, and it’s going to last that much longer. That’s my offering. That’s my suggestion.

Yes, the homeostasis when we get these little hits, it actually has a negative impact. We feel like it’s a little bit addictive, and we can feel crappy and crummy because it’s like trying to compensate. But yet, when we can tolerate the discomfort, then the payoff and the dopamine hit, it’s so rewarding. Thank you for sharing your personal story, both with your father and with your best friend. With my husband, I think we both attempt to ask each other new questions and opening questions. But I will say, to your point, not knowing the question, and having questions that are crafted in ways that are to your structure that maybe our brains aren’t in the habit of doing, it’s such a support tool. 

I know we’re winding down in our time here. I’m just curious, do you want to speak about any of the success that you’ve seen in the couples that you’ve worked with?

A sign of success, for me, would be two things. Because we’re not clinical therapists, and we’re not doing clinical research. We’re holding the space, and we’re seeing who appears, and the response we get online and what emails and messages we get from those participants after. That’s the information. So the two sides of success for me are that this project has 1,200 participants or pairs, so over 1,200. We have the breadth of relationships, all kinds, and we also have depth. We have depth because people come back year after year after year. Ben & Sidra has been on eight times. They came on two weeks before they gave birth to their first daughter, Nyla. And last year, they were on and Nyla is nine years old, and she’s having the conversation with her mom. We’ve been there for that time. They call us and say: Hey, it feels like it’s time for a catch up. 

Andrew & Keisha been with us also for a decade. Not only that, but you saw us in 2015. This is almost eight or nine years ago. We have pairs that are currently in the relationship they are, informed by what they saw online, and they tell us that. They say: “I didn’t know a relationship was possible like that. Then I looked for one, and now I have it, and now I practice it. We play {The And}. Once a week, we have our catch-up on Sunday.” So those are signs of success for me. Because the people participating find it really helpful, and they come in and they want to do a check-in, and they’re engaged. Not to mention all the commentaries we get.

The other big sign for me of success was Laura & Brad. They’re our longest conversation we posted earlier this year, and that, for me was very moving. Because they trusted our team, they trusted our platform to come and share their story. Their story was that 11 months prior to the conversation they had on {The And}, their 18-year-old son, they don’t know why or how, but he died at college in the shower. He just died, and they don’t know why. No drugs, no heart attack, he just passed away. Healthy guy. 11 months later, they’re in our space, and they are courageously sharing their story that they’re still very much in grief. They trusted us because of our body of work. That, to me, is a huge sign of success. It’s a huge honor that we carry, that they trusted us to share their story. I invite people to watch that, it’s very powerful. 

They told me. They said: “Topaz, we couldn’t get out of bed, but somehow we got the healing edition.” Brad has been a marine for 14 years. He says he’s facing the scariest thing of his life, having conversations with the wife that created vulnerability, that required courage, and they told us that these decks helped. Then that’s why they came on and did {The And}. To me, that’s a huge sign of success, or of being of utility in people’s lives. That’s what I got.

Thank you. Thank you so much. How do people access the card deck and your work if they want to watch videos or what you’re up to?

So TheSkinDeep.com has all of our products and experiences on it. Then YouTube and all the social media channels will be The Skin Deep. Just search The Skin Deep and you’ll find us.

I’ll make sure to have those links on today’s show notes.

Then the book, obviously the book is available everywhere and anywhere. 

Tell us about the book. 

Look, the book is everything we’ve talked about. It’s a distillation of what we’ve learned, I put it down. On a prescriptive level, have a conversation with these 12 questions, and it’ll forever change your relationship without doubt. More macro-picture, more fundamentally, it teaches you how to create the space, how to have well-constructed questions, and really create the space for exploration and deepening. It’s a guide to intimate conversations and deeper relationships. That’s what’s in the book. I’m so proud to finally get that out there.

Yes, and say the title for people who are listening. 

12 Questions for Love

Wonderful! This is assisting people, guiding people to develop relational skills, to develop relational connection with others. So thank you so much for what you’re doing, you and your team, and being here on the show. It’s been an honor.

Thank you so much, Jessica. I appreciate it. Thanks for the platform.

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching