All my life I’ve been asking myself, “Who can I connect with whom?” I am naturally hard-wired to see the world as a web of relationships and I get excited by the prospect of connecting people within my web. Not because they will like each other, but rather because of what they will create together. The mantra I operate on is “1 + 1 makes 3. Or 30. Or 300. ”
Entering a new career transition as an entrepreneur and leadership coach/consultant, I am constantly finding ways to build connections with people. I have come across five types of questions that have helped me to improve my emotional connectivity with people. I hope you’ll find the following helpful in building your relational intelligence.
- Establish Common Ground
Are you able to quickly identify things which you have in common? Whether that is your blood type, the month you were born, your ethnic background, alma mater, organization you work for, hobbies or mutual friends, my number one objective is to start a conversation based on something we share in common. This ignites our conversation and helps to take it to the next level. Finding common ground is the lubricator of the relationship engine.
Simply start looking around. What do you notice in the other person by which you can ask questions to create resonance and commonality? Here are some examples.
- “Those are nice looking glasses. Looks exactly like the design I’m looking for. Where can I purchase them?”
- “Isn’t the iPhone 6 so convenient for situations like this?”
- Ask Questions the Other Person Wants To Hear
This is second nature to master connectors. They are Jedi-masters when it comes to reading between the lines. They intuitively know what the other person wants to be asked.
Here’s a normal response from an average questioner:
- Person A: “How did you spend your long-weekend holiday?”
- Person B: “I visited Hawaii with my family and had a fantastic time there.”
Now, here’s a normal response from an exceptional questioner:
- Person A: “How did you spend your long-weekend holiday?”
- Person B: “I had a three day off-site visit with family. What about you?”
Did you catch the difference? In the second scenario, Person B intuitively knew that Person A brought up the question because Person A wants to share his/her experience. That’s why Person B gave a general reply and quickly turned around with the same question to Person A. If you really think about it, a lot of the questions people ask are questions they want to be asked.
Here are more examples:
- “Honey, did you hear? Our neighbor Jim has gone to Hawaii again.”
- “Were you involved in student clubs while you were in college?”
- “What are the best books you are reading?”
In the first question, the person isn’t confirming whether you know that Jim went to Hawaii. The question implies a desire; “I want to go to Hawaii too.” In the second question, the person isn’t really asking for which clubs you were involved with in college, but rather this person wants to share about his/her student club experience during college. Same logic for the third question. The person is more interested in sharing his thoughts on the best books he is reading. Exceptional connectors intuitively know this because they are always others-focused.
- When You Ask, Use “Half Open-Ended Questions”
Generally, there are two types of questions ‒ a closed-ended question and an open-ended question. Here’s an example of each of these two types of questions:
- Closed-ended Question: “Is working at your job hard?” (Either you respond with “yes” or “no.”)
- Open-ended Question: “What is it like working at your job?” (The person can freely respond.)
We ask these questions all the time. When we meet people for the first time and ask closed-ended questions, the conversation may abruptly halt, creating awkward moments. When you use open-ended questions, the question is so big and abstract that the person responding may have difficulty knowing how much information to share.
Instead, employ the “half open-ended question” method. This is when you inject more specificity into the open-ended question method. Here are a few examples:
- “What’s your favorite thing about working in your current job?”
- “What’s the hardest thing about taking this class?”
- “What makes this season the busiest time in your life?”
A small thing like adding a bit more specificity can make all the difference.
- Use Questions to Elicit Interesting Episodes
Master connectors learn from one of the most commonly used interview strategies today: behavioral interviews. “General questions” (such as follows) evoke abstract responses.
- “What’s your strength?”
- “What’s your dream job?”
- “What’s the most important thing you have learned from your role as a customer service rep?”
Instead, behavioral interviews focus on specific, concrete examples of the past that demonstrate certain qualities. Here are a few examples:
- “Can you tell me about an experience in your current role where your strengths came into limelight?”
- “What’s your current role at work? Tell me a success story of one of your accomplishments this year.”
One caveat is ensuring that you focus on both tact and tone. These questions can often sound intimidating. So it’s important to sound genuine and interested, not just like an interrogator. Here are a few examples of what it might sound like when you use this method in a conversation:
- “Oh, I see. Interesting. So what specifically happened after that?”
- “So what happened to that guy after this happened?”
- Leverage the Power of Research
We live in a world where transparency is the currency of relationship and information is free on the internet. Whether it’s a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, this creates an opportunity for master connectors to do pre-work to ask the right questions when meeting a person for the first time.
Whether preparing for an interview, going out on a date, or preparing for a networking session, I always spend 30 minutes to an hour to really research the person. I immediately think about what we might share in common. Also, I might follow the person beforehand on Twitter to see what kind of information he is interested in.
Which areas do you plan to focus on to upgrade your connection skills?
Professional ethnographers employ a similar approach. Once they learn the kinds of activities an individual performs, they first pose broad, open-ended queries about it. “Can you, please, tell me about _________?” Follow-up queries deal with the topics that came up in earlier replies. In this way, an “outsider” can quickly learn a great deal about “insiders” experience, knowledge, skills and beliefs.
Thanks Paul. I especially resonated with the point of asking half open-ended questions. In an attempt to be friendly I can get pretty intense fast. This approach to questioning gives a little wiggle room. How have you responded in that kind of situation?