The Introductory Question to Stop Asking (And What to Ask Instead)
Think back to the last several people you’ve met and the conversations you’ve had upon meeting them. What were among the first questions you asked or have been asked? If you live in the United States, or much of the Western world, one of the first questions that likely comes up in an introductory Conversation is “What do you do?” the implied meaning being “What do you do professionally?” or “How do you make your income?”
While many of us have been conditioned to ask this question and find it perfectly acceptable to be asked, there are a few reasons we might want to change up the conversation and ask something else. The first is that asking someone what they do, although indirectly, boxes them into their 9-5 jobs and their capacity to earn an income. As a result, this question might exclude people who are not employed, either by choice, because they are affected by the changing social, cultural, and economic conditions that make it increasingly difficult to find and maintain stable jobs, or because they are simply taking the time to figure it out. Furthermore, as we’ve written about previously, given the current and future generations’ longer lifespans, people are more inclined to hold multiple careers throughout their lifetime. Asking a question like “What do you do?” limits a person to their current pursuits or career and erases what they might have done in the past or intend to do in the future. Finally, humans are complex and layered beings who are so much more than what they do between the hours of 9am to 5pm or thereabouts. A question like “What do you do?” does not fully capture a person’s hobbies, talents, skills, interests, and other personality traits.
The question “What do you do?” need not be completely eliminated from introductory conversations with new people, but we can reframe this question or supplement it with others so as to get a more complete picture of who a person truly is and what is they want to accomplish in their lives. Some other questions that you might consider asking someone new you meet instead of “What do you do?” might include:
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What are your passions? Your hobbies? Your interests?
- How do you currently occupy your time? What projects are you currently working on?
- What issues are important to you?
- What are your goals?
- What drives or energizes you? What makes you happy in life?
- What do you enjoy reading or learning about? Are you reading anything good these days?
- How did you end up where you currently are?
- Are there other projects or activities that you hope to pursue in the future?
- What is something you’ve done that you’re especially proud of?
- What is an experience you’ve had that has taught you the most?
- Who or what inspires you?
- What do you enjoy offering others?
- What is your favorite thing to do at the end of a long day or week?
- What would you like other people to know about you?
Do you have other questions you’d like to add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!
In an increasingly complex world where people are surrounded by more opportunities than ever to cater to their whole selves rather than just their professional, money-making selves, it is time to change up our conversations and the stories we tell ourselves and each other to reflect the changing reality of our times.
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By Pavita Singh
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