Spice Up the Conversation by Skipping "What Do You Do?"
A few years ago I sat down to dinner with a new acquaintance while I was visiting Sweden. But the conversation was unlike any other first encounter I'd ever had, and it has changed the nature of "cocktail chat" for me ever since. (See also: 7 Ways to Be the Life of Every Party)
I'm not sure what inspired me. Maybe I subliminally knew she was a kindred spirit, or maybe I sensed she was dreading the standard roll call of questions people ask when getting to know each other...starting almost inevitably with:
So, what do you do?
I read her pursed lips and took a chance. As she unfolded her napkin and prepared her "elevator speech" describing what she does for a living, I instead opened the conversation with a question that stopped her in her tracks:
What excites you?
She blinked and looked at me for a while. With each passing moment, I increasingly feared something was lost in translation or I had trodden on culturally sensitive ground.
Then her face relaxed and she smiled widely. "Nobody has asked me that before!" she said as she then considered how to answer it.
Career and Identity
In an ideal world, we love what we do for a living — and it creates part of our identity. We spend a large portion of our waking lives working at our careers, so it should stand to reason. This is why an easy opening question often surrounds career.
But for many people, careers represent little more than conduits to income, and their true identity and passion comes from their activities outside of work.
So why not open the conversation with a question that allows somebody to talk about something exciting; something that makes them bubble over with enthusiasm — and which can ultimately lead to new frontiers of conversation?
The Spicy Question
You may wish to choose a different question than "what excites you" (which in some scenarios could even be construed as suggestive).
But choose a spicy question or two to have in your coffers for your next meet-and-greet situation; it will surely lead to an interesting exchange. Keep your question open-ended — it's important not to pry. Instead, focus on something that can be answered in many different ways.
- What's the most important thing to you in life?
- If you had all the money in the world, what is the first thing you would do?
- What has been your greatest adventure in life so far?
- What have you always wanted to do but haven't had a chance to yet?
- If you could wave a magic wand and do or change anything, what would it be?
- Where in the world have you always wanted to visit?
- What's the number one item on your bucket list?
- What are you happiest about right now?
The point of a spicy question isn't to shock your conversation partner (although often it will surprise them since it's not a "standard" opening question). The idea is to encourage somebody to reveal a passion, dream, experience, or story that they're excited to talk about — which in turn, leads to deeper connections, or at the very least, a conversation you'll both remember.
Once you've asked your question, listen to the answer. According to networking principles, what your conversation partner says will lead you to the next question, as long as you're attentive and open-minded.
What's your best "spicy question"?