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3 questions to help you skip the small talk and build relationships

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  • All business relationships start with great conversations. To get there, you have to break through the superficial small talk with meaningful questions. 
  • Instead of asking the typical “How are you” or “What do you do,” try to ask, “How are you feeling,” to open up a deeper discussion, and ask them what’s brought them job lately to learn about their passions. 
  • When you’re curious and put the spotlight on their story, people feel more appreciated, energized, and connected.  
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

One of the best ways to build real connections is to have authentic conversations. And yet, most people begin a conversation with the same basic questions, “How are you?” or “What do you do?”

These questions cause your mind to turn flat and respond with some predisposed script that elicits no emotion, or ultimately, any connection. Simply put, it’s the opposite of how business relationships are created. 

When I started my podcast interviewing guests, I found the fastest way to get a conversation moving, in a direction everyone enjoyed, was to skip these small talk questions and instead focus the conversation around experiences and emotions. It is all about getting people out of their heads and into their emotions. 

Read more: How to create your own networking opportunities online and connect with key players, according to entrepreneurs, coaches, and executives who’ve done it

Here are three questions that turn a small conversation into a real relationship. 

1. How are you feeling?

Skip the age-old question, “How are you?” and instead ask them how they are feeling. This simple tweak in wording opens up a richer conversation that is rooted in the present moment. You may notice that when people ask how they are doing they often begin to tell you about events in the past week or things they have looking into the future. When you ask how someone feels, it roots the conversation in the present. 

They immediately must turn inward, survey their current state, and then respond. All thoughts about the busy day behind them or the stressful week ahead are put on pause.  And, if someone isn’t doing well, and they are willing to be honest about it, this conversation suddenly has become an opportunity for you to support them.

2. What has been lighting you up recently?

I have found that if you want to be great at connecting, you must bring curiosity into your conversations. Instead of asking someone what they do, ask them what brings them joy. When you ask someone what their role is, it becomes an egocentric question where the person begins to wonder if their career experience, job title, or accolades are enough to stand out. This directly puts someone in their head where they are consciously, or subconsciously, sizing themselves up. 

This more curious question is all about determining someone’s passion. While most people don’t often have an immediate answer, it gets them thinking. The more people can become thoughtful about their answer, the more grateful the environment of the conversation becomes. A discussion solely focused on what lights someone up is far more connecting than asking someone to ultimately rattle off their resume.

Read more: Here’s how to network your way into getting a job at McKinsey, including email templates that’ll help you connect with the top partners at the firm

3. What is your story?

This is a question I save for a richer conversation when you have the time to dive deep or are able to tell the other person is a little more self-aware. And while this is opened ended, it gives them the opportunity to pick and choose what valuable information from their life they want you to know. Often times, they share intimate and unique details about themselves that you wouldn’t have ever known to ask. 

While they tell their story, lean in, and become curious about why they did what they did and what made them choose their distinct path. Everyone feels a sense of appreciation when you are truly curious about who they are. Placing the spotlight on the other person feeds them with energy and, in turn, leads to something great. They will walk away remembering how you made them feel.

Instead of starting transactional, start relational. The quicker you can pivot small talk moments into relatable conversations the more authentic your connections will become. Drop into something real with a colleague or a stranger and see how refreshing it feels for all parties. This is how true relationships begin. 

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