advertisement
Home » Blogs » Childhood Emotional Neglect » How to Have Productive, Insightful Conversations: The Vertical Questioning Technique

How to Have Productive, Insightful Conversations: The Vertical Questioning Technique


Have you recently moved and wish you could make new friends?

Do you have lots of acquaintances but want more close friends?

Is it hard for you to make meaningful connections on first dates?

Is your spouse asking you for more emotional closeness or connection?

Did you grow up in a family that avoided meaningful conversation (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) and now it’s hard for you?

Do you dread social gatherings because you struggle to make chitchat with people?

Do you need to socialize or network for your job and find it difficult or unpleasant?

Do you find small talk boring, meaningless, or useless?

— Then this technique is for you!

In both of my Running On Empty books, I described an extraordinary technique called Vertical Questioning. This easy-to-understand and amazingly effective way of asking questions in any kind of conversation helps folks with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN practice various levels of casual communication, improve and deepen their relationships, and reduce any social anxiety they might have. 

If you grew up in a family that was not very talkative, communicative, or emotionally aware, i.e., a family with some level of Emotional Neglect, it’s easy to be confused about what it’s OK to share or ask about when chatting with a stranger, acquaintance, friend, or even your own spouse. Your conversations may end up limited to information, facts, and surface topics, and this can hold back your ability to make friends and have deep and rewarding relationships.

I have for years taught this technique to my CEN clients. But, in response to my books, I have also received hundreds of comments and requests from non-CEN people asking for more information and examples on how to learn this highly-effective and transformative skill.

So let’s start by defining what Vertical Questioning actually is.

Vertical vs. Horizontal Questioning

Vertical questioning is a conversation technique that involves asking questions that require the other person to look inward, consider their own feelings, and deliver a response that slightly deepens the conversation.

Vertical Questioning is an amazing way to make small talk or chitchat more interesting. It tells you something about the other person that makes you feel more connected to them. It sets you up to share more, learn more, and remember each other better should you meet again.

It’s not just for strangers; it’s also effective with any person in your life. If you try it with a friend, spouse, colleague, or acquaintance, it will help you deepen your connection with them.

In contrast, Horizontal Questioning is more like information or fact-gathering. Consider these examples below.

    Horizontal Question

    Vertical Question

Where did you go?

Why did you go there?

What are you buying?

How did you pick those particular ones to buy?

Did you have fun?

What made it fun (or not fun) for you?

What do you do?

How did you end up in that field?

Where are you moving to?

Why are you moving?

Have you been on any trips lately?

What is it about traveling that you like?

How was your trip?

What was your favorite part of the trip? And why?

In general, horizontal questions are about facts, actions, or logistics. They are essentially data gathering. A horizontal question can act as a set-up for a vertical one. For example, some of the vertical questions above would be best asked as a follow-up to the horizontal one.

Vertical questions go deeper, even if only by a little. They are about a person’s intentions, preferences, motivations, feelings, background, or history. Sometimes, as mentioned above, you need to ask a horizontal question to set up a vertical one.

Example of a Horizontal Conversation: Pete On a First Date With Ann at a Coffee Shop

Pete: So is this the coffee shop you usually come to? I’m more of a Starbucks guy.

Ann: I come here sometimes. Starbucks’ coffee is too intense for me.

Pete: So what do you do for work?

Ann: I’m a data analyst. I work for Computer Solutions out on Rte. 128.

Pete: Hmm, I think I’ve heard of that company.

Ann: So you said over chat that you’re an ophthalmologist. You must have been in college for a long time. That takes dedication! You must be passionate about eyes.

Pete: Yes, it took 8 years. It was worth it though. It’s a great career.

Ann: Where did you grow up? Around here?

Pete: Actually I’m from New Jersey. Where are you from?

Ann: I’m from Milton so I haven’t strayed far.

Pete: Do you have siblings?

Ann: Yes, 3 sisters. You?

Pete: A brother.

This is a fine start to a conversation, but this meeting needs to go vertical before it’s too late. Conversations that don’t go vertical go nowhere. Pete has already missed some vertical questions that Ann asked him and he’s also missed some great opportunities to go vertical with Ann.

Let’s look at how this conversation might have gone if both Ann and Pete were more able to go vertical.

Pete and Ann Go Vertical

Pete: So is this the coffee shop you usually come to? I’m more of a Starbucks guy.

Ann: I come here sometimes. Starbucks’ coffee is too intense for me.

Pete: So what do you do for work?

Ann: I’m a data analyst. I work for Computer Solutions out on Rte. 128.

Pete: Hmm, I think I’ve heard of that place. Are you happy there? Do you like your job?

Ann: Believe it or not, I love analyzing data! My career path mostly consists of finding good places to do it. This place is fine for now.

Pete: Really? That’s so interesting. Tell me what it is about data analysis that you love.

(Ann Answers Pete’s question and as she talks Pete notices her eyes light up as she describes how she loves finding vital answers for companies by taking their own data and looking at it in a new way. From that, Pete concludes that she’s not a total nerd but is a problem-solver and people person too. He mentions this to Ann who laughs, but also feels a spark because she notes that Pete is observant and was really listening to her — a turn-on).

This exchange has deepened a bit which encourages Ann to go deeper too.

Ann: So, you said over chat that you’re an ophthalmologist. You must have been in college for a long time. That takes dedication! You must be passionate about eyes. Is that what got you interested?

Pete: Hm, good question. I do love the science behind it. Each patient is like solving a puzzle and I get to meet and help people at the same time. It’s really rewarding.

Ann: Sounds like you’re a problem-solver and people person too! That’s cool!

Ann is right. It is cool. Whether or not Pete and Ann are a good match or not remains to be seen, but they have made a connection here that opens the door for them to want to meet again. Vertical questioning can also go the other way. It can tell you more quickly that you do not want to see the other person again.

The Incredible Power of Vertical Questioning

In many situations, a single vertical question can change the course of a potential relationship, friendship, or networking opportunity. Once you understand how to do it, its quiet power goes everywhere with you. It gives you self-confidence and it opens doors. It gives you a way to connect with your spouse, livens up boring situations, and reduces social anxiety.

Does it take practice? Yes. Is it work? Of course. Is it worth it? Definitely!

Struggling with small talk or discomfort with communication that involves feelings can be a sign that you had Emotional Neglect in your childhood. Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it.

Find lots of resources to learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN in the author’s bio below this article.

How Brandon Learned to Small Talk and Transformed All of His Relationships.

How to Have Productive, Insightful Conversations: The Vertical Questioning Technique


Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website EmotionalNeglect.com.


16 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment

 

 

APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2020). How to Have Productive, Insightful Conversations: The Vertical Questioning Technique. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-neglect/2020/06/how-to-have-productive-insightful-conversations-the-vertical-questioning-technique/

 

Last updated: 14 Jun 2020
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.