“In conversation, humor is worth more than wit and easiness more than knowledge” -George Herbert
A conversation is like a journey with the speakers going from one place to another. But as with every journey, you must first learn how to take the first step. Here’s a tip to get things started and to help move your next conversation down the right path.
Have you ever been introduced to someone but did not know how to start the conversation? Ever experience that awkward moment of silence not knowing what to say or worse, waiting for the other person to say something interesting?
Well, here’s an approach that I use when selecting a jury. Remember, I’m talking to 12 people I’ve never met before and it’s my job to get everyone to talk about themselves so that I can learn more about my ultimate decision makers.
By the way, don’t try and use all these questions with the same person. When I’m at a business function or Rotary Club meeting, I may only use one or two of these per any one interaction. Otherwise it just wouldn’t be a dialog that feels natural.
Having said that, I do want you to think of these questions as though they are 10 arrows in your relationship quiver. Learn these questions and you can easily reach back in your mind and pull out the one that’s perfect for your next ice breaking opportunity. Remember, different questions apply to different situations so be careful with how and when you use them.
Hint- to develop rapport with the other person, it takes a bit more than just asking these questions. For example, pay attention and be genuinely interested in the other person’s answer. Listen 70% of the time, make eye contact and smile. Also make sure to use these questions in a natural conversational fashion. Let the discussion flow and follow up the other person’s answers with new related open ended follow-up questions.
So let’s get started. You’ve just be introduced to someone or, you’ve just walked in to a room and are approached by a complete stranger.
1. What do you do for a living? How did you get started?
People enjoy talking about themselves so give them a chance to do just that. Let them share their story with you. Listen and learn more about the other person.
2. What do you enjoy most about your business or profession?
I like to always be specific when I ask this question. If the person I’m talking to is an author I’ll ask something like, “What do you enjoy most about being an author?” as opposed to, “What do you like about your occupation?” See the difference?
Again, it’s a question that elicits a good, positive feeling. It will also get the conversation moving forward.
3. What separates you and your company from the competition?
This is a permission-to-brag question and the answer will help you learn what the other person believes is special about her business. Again, be as specific as you can with “company” and “competition”. Sometimes this question may include not a company but an activity or charitable cause. Either way, this approach works.
4. What advice would you give someone just starting in the ABC business?
This is a mentor type of question. We all like to be perceived as experts in our field so let the other person shine a bit and possibly share some pearls of wisdom with you. [tip- when he or she answers this question, instead of jumping in and sharing your thoughts on how the question should be answered, ask a follow-up open ended question. For example, “That’s interesting, why is that so important?”]
5. What one thing would you do with your business (or life, interest…) if you knew you could not fail?
This is a great way to find out what the other person’s true interest is. What are her dreams and goals?
6. What significant changes have you seen take place in your business or profession throughout the years?
This is a great question for someone a few years older than you. They’ve put in their time and usually enjoy sharing their opinions and stories.
7. What do you see as the coming trends in your business or profession?
This question asks the other person to speculate on the future. Think about this. Isn’t this a question that’s normally reserved for important guests on television shows like CNN? If the person happens to be an expert, you just might learn something from the answer. In any case, you’ll probably make them feel good about themselves just by asking the question.
8. Describe the strangest or funniest incident you’ve experienced in your business or profession?
People love sharing war stories so here’s their chance. Most people don’t get the chance to share these stories and now you’ve volunteered to be their audience.
9. What ways have you found to be the most effective way to help others or promoting your business or profession (or issue you’re discussing)?
You’ll not only get good ideas to help you move forward with a project or business need, you’ll also find out how this person thinks.
10. What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you do business or practice your profession?
You’ve just asked a question that most people are never asked. The other person’s answer will reveal quite a bit. They’ll also appreciate the fact that you care.
Tip: Care about your conversation and the other person. Be sincere and genuine.
After asking the first question and listening to the answer, it’s usually a good idea to follow up with an open-ended how or why type of question. This allows the other person to continue his or her train of thought and keep the conversation moving forward. Once he or she has finished, you can usually and very comfortably incorporate your own story, product or experience into the conversation.
Once again, and this is important, the start of a conversation should come across as natural. You don’t want to be mechanical or treat the interaction as an interview. It’s simply a pleasant chat. Mastering this approach takes some time and effort but is gold once you get the approach down and it starts to become second nature.
So what do you think? Do you believe these 10 question will help move your next conversation along? Please share your thoughts and comments.
Update via today’s Snapchat!
Jon Mitchell “Mitch” Jackson enjoys combining law, technology and social media to disrupt, hack, and improve our legal system. He has been a trial lawyer for almost three decades and is a 2013 California Litigation Lawyer of the Year (CLAY Award) and a 2009 Orange County Trial Lawyer of the Year. When he’s not trying cases, Mitch uses social media and technology to help good attorneys become great trial lawyers and to show everyone (not just lawyers) how to communicate better. His law firm website is JacksonandWilson.com and his communication tips blog is MitchJackson.com Outside the courtroom, Mitch enjoys interviewing people from around the world who are disrupting industries and influencing change. You can join the conversation via Human.Social and StreamingLawyer.com [hint- get more tips like this via Mitch’s weekly video newsletter. Click here…]