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!
A Short Course in Human Relations
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.
Your People Skills 360
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
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.
and Yang of Communication
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
on that last one!)
The Tao of Business Success
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
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.
10 Great Communication Quotes
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:
Whether or not someone is technology-savvy
A typical workday
A person’s learning style, i.e., visual, aural, etc.
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