Here are some interesting alternatives to the awkward ‘So what do you do?’.
David Burkus is a best-selling author whose next book, Friend of a Friend, talks about how to build key connections and grow your network. In a recent article he outlined a few alternatives to the usual conversation opener, ‘What do you do?’. Burkus suggests deliberately posing open-ended, non-work related questions to help you break the ice, discover common ties, glean personal insights, and build a rapport. By expressing an interest in the person’s passions, accomplishments, etc you are showing your keenness to interact and are likely to draw authentic responses from the person. The questions will also help you find commonalities that you can draw on to take it beyond just a ‘work contact’. While all definitely aren’t the first question you should be asking, they will help you steer away from the superficial and have a more meaningful conversation.
What excites you right now?
The one elicits a wide range of answers, from personal to professional, and gives you a glimpse into in deeper aspect of the person’s personality. It gives the person an opportunity to talk about something they are passionate about, making for a much more engaging conversation. It’s possible the answer might overlap with your work or life, providing for a deeper connection.
What are you looking forward to?
This is a question that is as Burkus says “forward-looking”. This makes it a broad enough question to elicit a range of responses. So rather than asking a question that elicits a monotonous, standard response, you’re giving the person the option to choose from a much larger database of answers. This again helps further the conversation, reveal a personal facet, and help you find common ground. It also shows that you’re interested in building a rapport and investing in the conversation.
What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?
This is a “backward-looking” question according it Burkus. It requires the person to reflect on the time gone by and think about a pivotal moment that changed him/her in the last one year. It helps by being an opportunity for self-reflection, providing insight for both parties in the conversation. Again, the person has the option to keep it work-related or discuss something personal. Either way it is key information you can use to build a context and connect.
Is there a charitable cause you support?
This one isn’t likely to be your first question and it might not make it to your top five either because it assumes the other person has at least one cause they’re interested in. But the earlier questions will help you get a feel for the person, so you’ll know whether to ask this one or not. And it doesn’t have to be restricted to monetary donations. The answer might reveal a common interest or introduce you to cause you weren’t familiar with. The type of charitable cause/support and will also help you understand what makes the person tick, their ‘soft spot’ so to speak and their involvement in life outside work.
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