Imagine you just met someone new. The formalities of names, jobs and the like have been exchanged and you seem to be getting along famously. But before you know it, a few minutes pass – and it looks like you’re running out of clichés!
There comes a time in every conversation with someone you’ve just met when you must cross the chasm between ‘HOW are you?’ and ‘WHO are you?’ A helpful technique for doing so is by asking creative, open ended questions. These questions function as front porches, inasmuch as their ability to build rapport, spark creativity and invite people to share their experiences and preferences. What’s more, they show an interest in people’s opinions and insights.
The following list is an excerpt from my most recent book, The Power of Approachability, which has just been released and is available for sale here.
1) Who are some of your mentors?
Mentoring is a hot topic right now. In fact, some people make a living setting up mentoring programs for businesses and organizations! That’s awesome. People need more mentors. I know I’d be lost without mine. So, it’s a perfect topic to bring up with someone you’ve just met. And you can learn a great deal about your conversation partner when you ask this question.
My friend Michael, for example, has a life coach, business mentor and spiritual advisor! When I first learned these facts about him I gained a new insight into the type of person he was. As a result I felt more comfortable sharing those same insights about myself. That’s another beautiful thing about asking these types of questions: self-disclosure, or the process of reciprocating information about yourself to another.
2) What’s the one book that’s been most influential on your business?
I go out of my way to ask this question to someone almost every day. It’s probably because I am an author and I love to read. But also, the books people read are partly responsible for creating who they are and how they do business.
I gave a speech a few days ago during which I asked the audience this question. The responses were excellent…and varied. People yelled titles ranging from The Bible to How to Win Friends and Influence People to The Yellow Pages (nice creative thinking on that last one!)
3) What’s the biggest mistake you made in your first year of business?
Admitting mistakes, embarrassing moments and errors you’ve made is a perfect way to invite someone into your heart. After all, a self-deprecating remark is one of the most effective forms of humor. And people love to know that the person they’re talking to is human, just like them. Talk about making an instant connection!
A few weeks ago I popped this question during the Q & A session of a National Speakers Association meeting. When I finished, the room ‘ooooohed.’ It sounded like a studio audience of a sitcom! Then the panelist I addressed chuckled and offered his response, which was a story about a failed project he worked on a few years back. When he finished a few minutes later he said, ‘Thanks – that was a really great question!’
4) What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
This question is one of my all time favorites. It’s fun, positive and always puts a smile on someone’s face – because people love to talk about what they love.
Take my dad, for example. He’s worked in the closeout business for about 30 years as the president of the St. Louis based CWC Inventories (Closeouts with Class). When I asked him this question he said, ‘The Booth! I LOVE standing at our booth at those trade shows, talking to customers we’ve had for 20 years, showing them new deals. That’s the best part about my job.’
If you only used one question from this article, this should be the one. Ask it today. And just watch how the dynamic of your conversation partner’s persona changes. It’s beautiful.
5) What quotations or motivational phrases do you live by?
The challenging, impromptu nature of this question stumps a lot of people. However, no better reflection of one’s values shines like the words they live by. One of the valuable activities I do during various speeches is to have people write one of their ‘words to live by’ on the bottom of their nametags. Then they have to share it with as many people as possible in the next five minutes. The room fills with laughter, smiles and instant connections! People discover CPI’s (Common Points of Interest) and get to know each other on a new level.
Next time you have a meeting or a group session, try this activity out. And just watch the connections spark.
6) What’s your preferred method of getting the news?
I enjoy asking this last question because it’s a generation mirror. Whether you obtain your news from Larry King, CNN, Paul Harvey, USA Today, Yahoo, Google, Newsgroups, List Serves, Talk Radio or your local news station, each medium offers insight about:
A great benefit of this question is its leveraging ability. Say your friend is obsessed with talk radio, and you come across a great new program on your local station. Well…call him up! Tell him you heard about this great new show and say ‘I thought you might like this.’ It will make his day!
What’s more, he’ll KNOW you were taking an interest during that initial conversation when you learned this information. He’ll REMEMBER how you engaged with him. And he’ll FEEL the transition from HOW are you to WHO are you. After all, that’s what UNFORGETTABLE communication is all about.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What’s your favorite question to ask new people?