[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
People like people who improve their lives and make conversations interesting. When you first meet someone you tell each other about yourselves in how and about what you talk. Sometimes when you take an interest in someone’s life or activities, you improve their lives. If people compliment you on your conversation skills, you probably do improve their lives by asking questions. Or if they are prompting you to ask questions, like talking about their kids or some other passion.
In my experience, when people first meet, the opposite happens more often. If you ask people what they do for a living, if they have brothers or sisters, where they’re from, or questions everybody asks all the time, you are probably boring them by having them repeat things they’ve said countless times before.
If you’ve ever felt like someone you didn’t know was giving you the third degree without contributing themselves, you know what I’m talking about.
In short, when you ask boring questions, you are asking them to provide the value in the conversation.
When I say this, people protest that by asking questions they’re taking an interest in other person, focusing on them. That’s why I said if people compliment you on your conversation skills you’re probably adding value. If they don’t, you probably aren’t.
If you hit a lull in a conversation first meeting someone and think to yourself something like “I know, I’ll ask them about …”, you should recognize how you are asking them to provide value. If you had something interesting to say, you would, but you don’t, so you hope something interesting about their life will come up.
I’m not saying asking questions is necessarily boring. But it often is.
You can do better. With a slight change of phrasing, you can make your conversations more interesting.
You can turn any question into a statement. Doing so makes the conversation more interesting. It often motivates the other person to share things they wouldn’t have otherwise.
The exercise is to turn questions into statements. When you are in a conversation and find yourself about to ask one of the questions below, form a statement instead. If you’re thinking about their work, say something related to their work.
- “So what do you do?” becomes “I bet I can tell what field you work in” or “You look like someone who loves what they do” or something similar.
- “Do you have brothers or sisters?’ becomes “I bet you’re a middle child. I can tell” or “You seem like someone from a large family.” It doesn’t matter if you can tell if they’re from a large family. The point is you gave them the opportunity to talk about something without asking it.
- “Where are you from?” becomes “You look like someone from the midwest/west coast/etc” or “I bet I can tell where you’re from.”
- “What’s your sign?” becomes “You’re a taurus, I can tell.”
You can come up with many other examples. Practicing now will make it easier in conversation later.
Over the next few times meeting people, try to rephrase all your questions into statements. See how it goes. When meeting people, note how you feel when they ask you questions and answering them, particularly ones you’ve been asked many times before.
Also, note the times you have wonderful conversations with someone new how many questions they asked you.
You, right here, right now
Practice right now. Imagine what questions you normally ask people. Which ones can you reframe into statements?
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book