Small talk … sucks. It’s the artificial sweetener of the conversation world. It doesn’t leave you feeling more connected, or understood. It’s no one’s idea of time well-spent.
Even the smallest of small talk, can be a bit of a minefield. In my last article, I talked about the difficulties of being asked That dreaded question… “what do you do?” and how to overcome the feelings we might experience when we’re not sure how to answer.
Somehow, even though we know how frustrating it is to be asked that question, and how downright unimaginative it is, how many of us still find ourselves asking it?
As I sheepishly raise my hand, I’m sure you are too.
While it is a knee jerk conversation starter at any event where you don’t know people very well, can’t we do better? Can’t we challenge ourselves to be a little bit more creative? More interesting? More interested?
When I meet someone… I really just want to watch their eyes light up as they tell me about something they really care about. I want to feel a moment of understanding and connection. I want to help them – and now that I know more about them, I can recommend resources, knowledge, experiences that might be a perfect fit. I want to leave the experience feeling a little more connected, understood and helpful.
I know that’s a coachy stance, but ask yourself – what do you look for in a conversation? Are the questions you’re asking getting you there?
By asking “what do you do” I’m either eliciting a rote response (“Oh I’m a CPA, or I teach Kindergarten, or I’m a Dental Hygienist”) or I send them into a shame spiral for not knowing how to answer the question.
So what can I ask to bypass small talk and plug right into understanding? And ask questions that we really want to hear the answer to, not just ones where we’re waiting for our turn to speak…
Here are some questions I’ve used:
What are you passionate about?
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
What’s the best part of your day?
Where do you get inspiration from?
How do you love to spend your time?
What’s your jam?
What were you doing the last time you were totally in flow?
What/who do you love?
What gets you motivated?
What do you need in your life right now?
What’s challenging you right now?
What holiday gift are you most excited to give?
Or whatever I’m curious about in that moment.
I’m not going to lie, I have kind of a weird reputation at parties – I often get a look and find myself apologizing for being nosy or weird. But once they get over the initial surprise, they usually answer with glee, starting some of the most interesting, engaging, deep conversations of my life.
So this season, when we find ourselves at party after party, let’s challenge ourselves to ask better questions.
What do you think, should this be party etiquette for the gig economy? And what non-small talk questions do you ask?