“Where did you go before?”
“Where are you going next?”
I tense my muscles.
Hmm… how can I turn this conversation into something interesting?
As some of you know, I am traveling for 6 months.
One of the good experiences is to meet so many new people.
But at the same time, it means many of the same conversations.
I see the same happening in office small talk.
No one enjoys boring questions.
Still, we ask them all the time.
And it is totally unnecessary.
We have learned that we need to ask open questions.
However, not all open questions are great.
I prefer to distinguish low and high-quality questions.
In this article I explore those two types and give suggestions how to make your conversations more interesting.
Applying this concept has made an enormous difference in my life.
The difference between a boring and fun conversation.
The difference between an okay and a great business relationship.
The difference between a meaningless moment and a life-changing career opportunity.
Low value questions
What do the following questions have in common?
"How long did you work for company X?”
“What did you do in your first month at this company?”
“When did you start in your current role?”
They are factual, transactional, not involving any emotion.
Moreover, such questions close off conversational avenues. There are not many possibilities for the other person to go off track.
It does not trigger that interesting business story you have not heard yet, because the question is so narrow.
Also, these questions are unlikely to establish a great connection.
Buy a plane ticket to Indonesia.
Take a big suitcase.
Pay the excess baggage fee if needed –
As long as all your low-quality questions fit in.
When you arrive, get on a boat to Komodo island.
And feed all your boring questions to the Komodo dragons.
Is that too extreme?
I just hope the vivid image of my cute little Komodo friends sticks in your head.
Now, let me rephrase.
Low-quality questions are not bad in every situation.
They can be a useful starter and help to take the conversation in a certain direction, as long as you follow up with a high-quality question. Later in this article I will suggest how you can do so.
Another situation where low-quality questions are helpful is when you are looking for specific information.
But don’t expect an interesting answer.
Do expect bullet points, dull dialogue and lack of connection.
Why do we ask low-quality questions?
In order to move from low to high-quality questions, it is important to understand why we ask so many low-quality questions.
If I look back why I have asked plenty of low-quality questions in my life, I see various reasons:
I was not aware of the difference between low and high-quality questions (obvious one)
Low-quality questions are easier to think of. I was afraid of the silence and would quickly ask the next boring question.
Low-quality questions are easier to answer. I did not want to create tension by asking questions that others could perceive as difficult.
Low-quality questions feel safer for me, because I know where the conversation will lead. Therefore I have more ‘control’ over the situation.
Of course I still ask low-quality questions.
But step by step I'm learning.
I recognize better when I'm throwing in a low-quality question to spark conversation, instead of tossing it to the Komodo dragons.
Do you recognize any of the above reasons for yourself?
Low-quality questions are safe and easy.
However, they don’t build a fundament for strong relationships.
As always, short-term comfort leads to poor long-term results.
Do you choose to be comfortable or courageous?
If you decide for the latter, read on to discover the long-term bright side.
What do the following questions have in common?
“How did you experience working at Company X?”
“How did you feel in your first month at this company?”
“What do you enjoy most in your current role?”
These questions are personal and involve emotion.
Moreover, they allow for a high number of possible answers.
You leave much room for the other person to answer in a way that is most interesting or useful to the conversation.
This helps you to get a better understanding of the other person.
As a result, your connection will likely enhance.
Exploring life outside work
The above example questions are all about work.
However, the same applies to personal questions.
Standard questions often lead to a boring response.
“What are your hobbies?”
Come on, you can do better.
Rephrasing that question led to more engaging conversations for me:
“What does your perfect Saturday look like?”
It pulls the other person out of the auto-pilot.
They cannot just press play and mindlessly blurt out their hobbies in bullet points.
Less auto-pilot = more connection.
Read more on auto-pilot here.
Another original question that reveals more than asking a standard one:
“How would you spend your week if you had 10 million euros in your bank account?”
If these questions feel too strange and out of the box for you, I have a simple suggestion for a place to start.
Every single day, you hear someone saying: “I liked this.” “I enjoyed that.”
I always, always, always ask them:
“What did you like about it?”
Answers to this question reveal much about their personal values, needs, and interests.
Which means: more understanding, more connection, and new conversational avenues.
Try it out.
Don’t forget to let me know how it goes!
A look in the mirror
Becoming more aware of the type of questions and the impact they have on my conversations helped me tremendously.
Questions either build or kill relationships.
They bring joy to the room or suck all energy out.
They give room for spontaneity or push someone against a wall, not giving any space for an interesting answer.
We could blame the other person for giving boring answers.
But maybe we should look in the mirror,
To see that the boring answers are the result of our low-quality questions.
I believe that everyone has interesting stories and ideas.
You just need enough curiosity and superstar questions to discover them.