Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom - The Key to Successful Introductions? Great Second Questions


The first ingredient in conversation is truth, the next good sense, the third good humor, and the fourth wit. 
William Temple 


Meeting new people for the first time can be a challenge. We want to get to know the other person, put them at ease, and move the new relationship forward on the right foot. What we say first is important.
Lately, articles in the blogosphere have called into question the appropriateness of the standard first question: "Hi, I'm Scott Farnsworth. I'm a wills and trusts attorney and a retirement expert. What do you do?" These bloggers' objections to this traditional introduction include:
  • It's shallow.
  • There's much more to who you are than what you do.
  • It makes it seem that how you earn a paycheck is the most important thing about you.
  • It's awkward for someone who's out of work or who doesn't care much about work.
Some of the articles propose "replacement questions" that frankly are so strange that I cannot imagine using them as a first question in a casual introduction at a business meeting, on an airplane, or at a cocktail party. Questions like:
  • How do you feel your life has worked out so far?
  • What personal habit are you proudest of?
  • What are you most passionate about?
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy having deeper conversations using those kinds of questions with someone I already know. But as a first question with someone I barely met, questions like these would feel downright weird.
There's a reason the "What do you do?" question has been around so long: it's safe, comfortable, and expected. It works!
Is it perfect? Of course not. But discarding it would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Instead I think the key is to pair it with appropriate follow-up questions. Let's couple "What do you do?" with some Great Second Questions (GSQs).
What makes a Great Second Question? To me, it should be comfortable, not creepy. It needs to feel natural, not contrived. It ought to organically lead to an authentic get-to-know-you conversation. Here's how to develop GSQs.

1.  A GSQ follows sequentially from and builds on the first question, "What do you do?"
To state the obvious, don't yank them in a different direction with your second question. There must be a natural segue from their first answer to your next question. This is not a time to zig when they're zagging.

2.  A GSQ is open ended and invites a narrative answer.
Questions that lead to narrative answers are warm and comfortable. I call them "story-leading questions." Story is our true native language, and it invites human-to-human connection, as I've explained in three of my books (visit

3. A GSQ isn't analytical, i.e. it doesn't require them to rank, sort, or  evaluate.

Questions requiring analytical answers such as "what's your best . . ." or " what's your most important . . ." or "what's your favorite . . .." disrupt the flow of the conversation. They make the other person stop and perform a calculation and can lead to hesitancy in responding.
4.  A GSQ doesn't get too intimate too quickly.
If it feels like prying, the dialogue is dying. Getting too personal too soon is a sure way to kill a conversation, which is the last thing you want when meeting someone new.

Applying these guidelines, I came up with a few possibilities. What do you think? What would you add to this list of GSQs?
  1. How did you get started in that field?
  2. Is being a ____________ something you always wanted to do?
  3. That seems like an interesting profession. What do you enjoy about being a _____________?
  4. How long have you been in the ____________ field, and what has changed during that time?
  5. Do you see yourself doing that for the rest of your career?
  6. Is that a profession you would recommend to someone just starting out in their career today?
  7. Is that your dream job or is there something else you'd rather be doing?

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