The Question

I notice that a fairly high percentage of people don’t seem to know how to nourish a conversation. By “nourish” I mean using skills that encourage and foster deeper, longer, more interesting exchanges between people. This skill is useful and leads to better interviews, smoother working relationships with others, and long-term friendships with people that will surprise one.

I became aware of this when I used to belong to a business networking organization. One of our tasks in the group was to schedule a “dance card” with each of our chapter associates. A dance card was simply a coffee appointment or maybe even lunch, and during that hour we were to find out how we could assist each other in business connections.

What was surprising to me was that on several occasions an hour passed in which the other person spent the whole hour talking about herself or himself and never asked a single question about me. This was not a point of offense, nevertheless it did prompt questions about what prompted their self-focus. If they had three to four good questions to ask, the hour would have passed in dialogue rather than monologue.

Having good questions to ask distinguishes the questioner from every other mediocre, disinterested, and indifferent individual on the planet. And these questions are not difficult or, necessarily, profound. They are just interested and interesting. Here are the four questions.

  1. (A question about family such as:) Did you come from a big family? Or where was your home growing up?
  2. (A question about self-influencers such as:) What influenced you in this vocation? Or what would you say is the most influential thing you’ve ever read? Or who mentored you?
  3. (A question about special interests such as:) What do you like to do in your spare time? Or how do you rejuvenate yourself after a long week?
  4. (A question about heart such as:) What really gets your blood pumping? Or what do you really like to contribute your time and money to?

Any one or combination of these four questions is a good way to can-open the conversation into a dialogue rather than a monologue. Concentrating on the person you are sitting with is one of the most noble, kind, and generous things a person can do. And it generates respect in the relationship.

The point of this blog is not really “the question” but rather giving sincere attention to the Other. I left many of the business networking dance cards thinking, “That is a person I don’t care to spend anymore time with. Too self-centered.”

A good question to ask yourself is this. What did the other person think about my contributions to this conversation? That question is a good starting point for evaluating how you treat others in your conversations.