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How to Ask Smarter Questions When You Network

You'll get better answers, too.

© Getty Images   Friends In A Cafe

From Inc. 

The ability of questions to form deeper connections is a main section of The Book of Beautiful Questions. I interviewed a number of experts on getting past small talk specifically, and am giving you a 600-word overview of some of their advice below:

  • A good way to get beyond small talk is to ask open-ended questions that invite people to tell stories, rather than give bland, one-word answers.
  • Curiosity has to be at the heart of your heart when you talk to someone. The kind of curiosity that works best is a curiosity for stories.
  • Put a twist on more standard questions. Instead of How was your weekend, try What was the best part of your weekend? Instead of, Where are you from?, try What's the strangest/most interesting thing about where you grew up?
  • Take questions that are closed, meaning they call for simple factual or yes/no answers (How long have you lived in Boise? Six years. Do you like it? No.) and make them more open-ended, calling for a more individualized answer (What brought you to Boise? What's the most enjoyable thing about living there?).

Here are some questions to ask instead of 'How are you?'

1. What's the best thing that happened to you today? Can be adapted to ask about this week, over the weekend, etc.

2. What are you excited about in your life right now?

3. What are you most looking forward to at this gathering? Good for conferences and other social events.

Here are some questions to ask instead of 'What do you do?'

1. What are you most passionate about? A great way to shift from job (which may be boring) to interests.

2. What problem do you wish you could solve? Shifts from present realities to larger goals and possibilities.

3. What did you want to be when you were growing up? Invites a story about growing up and the road that led to here.

  • There's a tendency to think we shouldn't ask "deeper" questions of people we don't know very well. That's not true. People may seem surprised at first, but then will think about your question for a moment and often tell you something beautiful.
  • The "open up and go deep" questioning approach works in everyday family settings, as well. We've all been in that situation where a parent at the dinner table asks, So: how was everyone's day? The answers typically run the gamut from "fine" to stony silence.
  • Try asking the question individually (it's hard for "everyone" to answer a question).
  • Change "how was your day?" to, for example, What was the most interesting thing that happened to you today?

The same advice applies to making small talk with your spouse. Go beyond "How was your day?" and ask:

  • When did you feel appreciated today?
  • Will you remember any specific part of today a year from now?
  • What made you laugh today?
  • What do you wish you did more of today?

Before engaging in meaningful conversations, however, the first question to ask yourself is, Am I ready to listen fully?

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Career Magazine: How to Ask Smarter Questions When You Network
How to Ask Smarter Questions When You Network
You'll get better answers, too.
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