Oh dear. Practice times 80billion? I think I learned it mostly through long years of living with someone who was super taciturn while they were my only human contact (I don't recommend that method). But it was increased by talking with someone who asked me incisive questions (Hannah) and realizing that I could look for missing information and then ask about it. It's just my first choice for a response, usually. If someone says "I'm fine" I would probably ask "what about [this specific thing]?" (relationship, job, creative project, whatever I might know about happening) and then if they say, "things have been tough with my lover" I would ask "how so?" <- that, actually, is the easiest and one of the best questions. It prompts the person to look again at the thing they have said and expand on it. Most people want to know that you are interested in the long answer before they will give it to you. The process in my head is 1) person says something 2) I listen and look through the answer for something I would want to know more about 3) I ask about that specific thing 4) process repeats. Taking things from general to specific is good question skill-building. If you're thinking of initiating with a question, the more specific the better because vague is hard to answer. If you're first getting to know a person, ask about their emotions (what makes you [angry]?), their habits/preferences (what is your favorite [kind of outing]?), their desires (what do you want [in a friend]?), their self-labels (do you consider yourself [an artist]?). One of the best questions I've ever been asked is "what do you feel the strongest need to have more of in your life right now?" I had never considered that, and it made me realize stuff about my priorities. Please ask followups if you have any ;-)
Lydia asked How do you handle choosing between remaining in a relationship for fear of being alone or embracing your independence even if it means being alone for the rest of your natural life?
That is a very hard choice. I would imagine that one wouldn't need to be alone but I understand that fear. For me, when it comes to relationships I have realized that I cannot be happy or fulfilled if I am motivated by fear or obligation, and that if I am neither happy nor fulfilled, I am pouring my energy into a black hole and being useful to no one. I think I would be comfortable never having another lover as long as I could have close friends, so I think I would theoretically be okay being alone in that way for the rest of my life. My first relationship was one I poured all of my energy into and that is a HUGE adjustment to make and it's scary but it's also a weight lifted. I think if one is scared to leave a relationship, the first step is to try to find a support system; try to make friends and feel connected to people other than one's partner. I don't think I could have left that relationship that took all my energy if I hadn't found the friends I did. It's just too hard to live completely alone, we are social creatures. But friends can be wonderful; I have seen enough of aquaintances that people call friends to know that most people are CRAP at being friends, but there are people who want to build real connections as friends. In my experience, poly queers are the best group to find someone who will know how to be friends, because they don't put intimacy into a one-person box. Overall I could never make the choice for someone else, but several times I have made the choice to act out of desire rather than fear and every time it has led me to a better life.