25 Questions that Can Dramatically Improve Your Relationships (Even in Time for the Seder)


Hanukkah makes me happy. Purim drives me to drink (but in the best way possible.) Simchat Torah makes me want to dance in the streets. Pesach? Well, Pesach makes me feel… enslaved. Bitter. Unleavened.

What makes this holiday different from all others – and so dreaded?

It’s not the seders. I truly enjoy the retelling of this piece of Jewish history. I love the soap opera plot (Secret babies! Villains galore! ). I relish recounting the plagues that read like my "greatest fears about sleep-away camp" list (lice, flies, boils – and the kids are going anyway). I delight in hearing my kids read in Hebrew from the Haggadah: my daughter Sophie quickly whipping through the words with impressive accuracy (if little affect), and my son Jacob taking his time to make sure that his melodic Israeli-influenced accent infuses every word. No, it’s not the seders.

It’s not turning over the house. As we unpack our Passover Rubbermaid bins, it feels like discovering (low-budget) treasure. I remember those Disney mugs! We actually bought a kosher for Pesach lemon zester? Macaroons never expire, right? When my husband Michael (an engineer with an MBA) suggested that we make an itemized content list to tape to the top of each box, I reluctantly agreed. Sure, it’s savvy, but it kills the suspense. Nevertheless, having a once-a-year crumb-free house with old-but-new flatware is cool.

It’s not even the food. For the first two days, we eat like royalty. Sumptuous roast beef, potatoes whipped with schmaltz, a Viennese table of "I Can’t Believe It’s Not Chametz" desserts. For the next few days, we get creative with matzah pizza, put lox on everything, and I even turn a blind eye when the kids eat marshmallows three times a day. The last two days are trying on our palates and GI tracts, but at that point, we know that our pasta party is rapidly approaching.

It’s not the dozen eggs a day that makes this holiday so trying – it’s walking on all those eggshells that comes from eight days of too much togetherness. It starts at the seder, when different family members with competing priorities gather. Should we engage the kids more during the seder at the risk of delaying dinner? Should we add new flair to the standard menu, or stick with tradition? Is giving hints to the children searching for the Afikomen a criminal offense?

It doesn’t end with competing priorities. We have family and guests with different communication styles, and under stress (a hot kitchen, a houseful of company, fine china being handled by children), many of us snap, crackle and pop under the pressure. We get short with each other, or long-winded to relieve the tension, ignore one another’s hot buttons, or press them on purpose. We all want to be heard, but we don’t all want to listen.

Of course, this is only the first two nights. I then have a week left to entertain and engage my two ten-year olds, and I typically lose my patience by the fourth day. When Jacob refuses to go bowling and Sophie wants nothing but, I begin to crack. When it’s too cold to go outside but another minute inside feels like a year, I’m not at my best. And when I have tons of work to do that I cannot get done because we’re at the movies, ice skating, bowling (sorry, Jacob), holding in my frustration feels impossible.

It’s like God hardens my heart — but I know it’s my responsibility to soften it for the sake of my relationships.

We all feel challenged at one time or another by family and friends, colleagues, managers, volunteers, and others with whom we have ongoing relationships. Sometimes we’re the victims, and yes, sometimes we’re the oppressors. When we don’t take into account differences in expectations, communication styles, and priorities, we set our relationships up to be plagued by hurt feelings and chronic frustration that can last a lifetime.

If you’re tired of being enslaved by past offenses, or want to prevent future grievances, I invite you to add some new questions to the Big Four you’ll ask on Pesach. These queries help clarify and crystallize what each relationship you’re in needs to thrive – and what each of your roles are in making that happen.

Be like Nachshon: take the first step and see what’s possible when you offer a new question that can dramatically improve an old relationship. It just might provide the mortar you need to build a sweet new bond.

25 Questions that can Dramatically Improve Your Relationships

1. What do I say or have said in the past that you have appreciated the most?

2. What do I say or have said in the past that makes you uncomfortable?

3. How do you argue or disagree most effectively?

4. What disagreement approaches won’t work well between us?

5. What happens if we can’t agree on something important that involves both of us?

6. What should I never say to you, even in frustration?

7. What might I say or do to get your attention about something urgent if other approaches haven’t worked?

8. How might we take responsibility for our own communication and actions, rather than blaming one another?

9. How long are we in this type or stage of relationship for?

10. How might our relationship evolve and change over time?

11. How much room or license do we have to ask each other to change?

12. What will be the early warning signs that our relationship is in trouble?

13. What can I do to make your day?

14. How do you like to receive both positive and constructive feedback?

15. What are your "hot buttons"?

16. What can you say to me before I’ve set you off?

17. How would you like me to remind you about my "hot buttons"?

18. What’s the biggest lesson I might be able to learn from you?

19. What’s the biggest lesson you think you can learn from me?

20. Who do I remind you of?

21. What does that bring up for you?

22. What do we do if we’re both having a bad day?

23. What happens if I get discouraged about our relationship?

24. What about our work together is likely to give us a recurring problem?

25. What about our work together is likely to change both of our lives for the better?

Deborah Grayson Riegel is a certified coach, speaker and trainer who helps individuals, teams and organizations achieve personal and professional success through her high-energy workshops, presentations and one-on-one coaching. Visit her online at www.myjewishcoach.com or www.elevatedtraining.com. Read previous ‘Success’ columns here.