How to stop boring everyone you meet

August 16, 2011 by Joshua
in Blog, Leadership

Some people ask the same boring questions of everyone they meet. They are so stuck in their ruts they don’t see what they’re doing. They guide conversations to small talk they’ve heard before and don’t care about, then wonder why people aren’t more interesting.

By far the most boring, in my opinion, is

  • So what do you do?

You’ve asked it. You’ve been asked it. You’ve answered it too many times to count.

Maybe at a trade show or networking event this question could be interesting. Any other time you are treating them as an employee before than as a person.

Worse, you are telling them your prime identity is as an employee, before as anything else. Why would you expect them to connect with you on any level than as an employee. Why should you expect them to share with you emotions beyond business transactions? Do you want to project those values?

Even at a trade show, why not connect with the person as a person before as an employee? Why not connect on emotions other than business transactional ones?

I don’t meet people for work-related things and I get asked this question daily. Few people I know love talking about their work outside of work, let alone at work. Few people recognize to interpret the question to mean what do you do outside of work.

If someone loves what they do, they’ll share it without you asking. And then they’ll share their passion. You didn’t have to ask.

Note the “So” before the question, as if it followed from something. It doesn’t. It implies a casual indifference, which is accurate: people rarely care about the answer. When do they care? When they want a job — guaranteeing any follow-up will bore the person they asked.

By asking those questions you ask the other person to interest you. You are telling them to lead because you are a follower. A leader may well abandon you in favor of more capable people. After all, if you haven’t mastered basic social interactions you do every day, why should they expect you to have mastered anything else?

Other common boring questions include

  • So where are you from?
  • So how many brothers and sisters do you have?

Again the “so”‘s attempt to imply the questions follow from somewhere besides the laziness of the asker to come up with an interesting question. Again they do imply indifference because everyone has asked and answered these questions so many times. People care for about fifteen seconds how both of you are middle children or that you visited that place ten years ago and loved the weather.

Expect awkward pauses about a minute after you ask these questions. If you started with those questions, conveying your laziness to generate interest, don’t expect them to pick up the slack.

Other questions so boring they don’t deserve extended comment: anything about

  • the weather, sports, or current events
  • the most visible element of the other person’s appearance

Questions relevant to me, but you have something similar

  • So why are you vegetarian?

If you’re not vegetarian, something mildly unique about you provokes similar questions.

Every vegetarian (or whatever characterizes you) gets asked the same question several times daily. Rarely does the person respond with more than a description the same things: how much meat they eat, how they are trying to decrease their meat, and how many of their friends are vegetarian. More boring people will start to argue with you about your answers.

You’re telling me either to interest you myself or to walk away.

Alternatives

I get great results from

  • What are you passionate about [optional: besides work and family]?
  • What are your passions?

I can follow up with my meaningful connection exercise if I like. Or share my passions. Or ask them about more details about their passions.

Any way I go, the question isn’t so strange to raise eyebrows, but connects on emotions besides business transactions.

Other choices

Here you create the interest. Do you think you have no interesting stories? Then you’ve explicitly realized you will bore them. More likely you don’t know how to tell stories well. Learn to.

My favorite and most effective way to create interest in a conversation is

  • Include the other person in the interesting things you were just doing

“Just doing” could be that moment, that day, that week, that year, or whenever. The point is its relevance. This technique works easily when you’re with friends. Being alone can make it harder, but the rewards can be greater.

Learn to make Meaningful Connections

with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.

Including

  • Step by step instructions
  • Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
  • An excerpt from my book

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7 responses on “How to stop boring everyone you meet

  1. I often ask “How did you happen to come to this event?” or “How do you know the person who is holding this event?”

  2. “What is your passion” feels even worse than asking what someone does. You’re still asking them to entertain you, but they are a lot less likely to have either a job or a type of job they are looking for. It seems like *everyone* is asking us millennials that.

    • When I work with people in person sometimes they tell me they don’t want to ask about “passions.” Usually they find the word too strong. I did the first time someone suggested it to me, but then I saw him do it and it seemed natural. With practice it became natural to me. But it’s not for everyone. If it doesn’t work for someone, there are alternatives.

      If you follow the question with the meaningful connection exercise, I guarantee people won’t feel like they’re being asked to entertain.

      It seems to me everyone asks everyone about work first. Even if asking about passions doesn’t work, I still recommend avoiding starting relationships by asking about work.

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