Meeting a new person with a lifetime of different experiences is an exciting prospect. Naturally, we must first blaze a trail through the jungle of small talk as we establish rapport. Once that’s done, what are a few good questions to get to know someone? After we’ve established a general friendship, how do we really get to the meat of who this new person is?
An effective way to delve into a conversation partner is by asking questions that will help you see that person’s life and experiences through their eyes. There is a line to straddle where questions can be too personal. Not only is that line hard to see, but it can be in different places depending on the comfort level of the person you’re talking to. The goal is to aim for questions that will help a person open up, but not tread into inflammatory topics – like politics, religion, and money.
Here are some suggestions on questions that can serve as a key to unlock deeper conversations.
The word “why” is a simple and convenient way to start getting a peek below the surface. A conversation can be continued and explored by asking why a person feels the way they do about an opinion or the topic of discussion. Why is that your favorite book? Why do you love that song so much? Why did you Major in that particular subject? Why did you decide to study abroad?
A well placed “why” can easily keep socialization flowing or kick-start a conversation that has died down. It provides an abundance of questions to get to know someone in a three letter, easy to remember package. Simply look for a way to ask a relevant why question.
2. What do you find interesting?
People generally love to talk about themselves. Not everyone. Some people struggle with socialization issues that make it hard for them to feel comfortable and open up in conversation. A question like, “what do you find interesting?” gives the person an open door to gush about a subject that they are passionate about.
The great thing about this question is that you have an opportunity to explore the knowledge and experience of a new friend. We all have the same twenty-four hours in our day. We all can’t be out there mastering everything there is to know. The ability to tap into and appreciate another person’s passion can open up doors to new interests and perspectives that you may not have otherwise experienced.
3. What do you value most?
A person today is the sum total of their life experiences and perceptions. Understanding what a person values most in life can offer insight into what kind of person they are and expand the scope of the conversation.
The person that values reading or education may appreciate having a wide body of academic knowledge to draw from. Perhaps they value the love and appreciation of a peaceful home life with their family. Or maybe they are career driven and value professional accomplishments ahead of all else.
There’s no wrong answer, and it’s a great question to get to know someone because you can follow it up with, “Why do you value it so much?”
4. What do you find inspirational?
It’s a fascinating thing to see what moves people to do the things that they do. People will go to great lengths because of what resonates within their soul and inspires them. This could be a grand inspiration or it might be small and quiet. The important thing to keep in mind is to treat that person’s inspiration as important – because it is! Even if it seems silly or ridiculous, it’s of clear importance to that person.
People often expect grand statements when it comes to something like inspiration, but sometimes inspiration is quiet. It can be as quiet or private as wanting to be better for oneself or family. Perhaps they see someone doing well and think, “I can do that, too.” Maybe it was a piece of art, another person’s passion, or a simple act of kindness.
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5. Do you have any long-term goals or dreams?
Forward thinkers are an interesting group of people to associate with. They tend to think in expansive ways, research their paths, and blaze trails to new and interesting experiences. Expressing an interest in a person’s goals and dreams gives them an opportunity to share a piece of themselves that we don’t often explore.
That being said, not everyone is wired that way. Sometimes a person may be struggling to get through the day, other times they may just be happy with their present lifestyle and want to maintain what they currently have. It requires all different types to keep the world moving after all.
6. What brings you peace or joy?
A number of people in the world struggle with the load life has placed on their shoulders. Presenting two prongs of this question lets the listener choose the route that is more applicable to them. You can also choose to leave one off if you know the person well enough, don’t feel it will go over well, or may hit too close to sensitive subject matter.
Understanding what brings a person peace or joy can help paint a clearer picture of what they appreciate. Plus, it provides another avenue for expanding the conversation. Is it nature? Do they like to hike or camp? Is it their pets? What breeds? How long have they had them? Is it time with the family? What kind of activities do they enjoy? Is it a ball game? Is it a few beers? Maybe it’s a few minutes of peace and quiet while perching on the porcelain throne, scrolling through their phone.
It may not turn out to be anything super complicated or difficult.
7. What would you do with your life if you had no restrictions?
The kind of answers you get with this question can point towards hopes, dreams, and goals in the person you’re conversing with. It can also say a lot about what kind of person they are. Did they pick something benevolent and kind? Something selfish? Something strange or outlandish? Ask, why did they pick the thing that they did?
Oh! And don’t be too surprised with an answer of “animal sanctuary or rescue.” It’s a common one!
And to close…
These are but a few suggestions for questions to help facilitate conversation, but questions aren’t as important as being a good, active listener. Do you really want someone to open up and show you who they are? Turn off the television, put the phone away, and get rid of the distractions. Make that person the focus of attention while diving beneath the surface of general socialization.
The conversation can change dramatically when you focus your attention on the other person, hold eye contact, and offer an inviting smile. People respond well when your body language demonstrates that you care about what they have to say. It’s not enough to ask the right questions here and there. No one wants to feel like an afterthought or that they do not deserve focus!
And be prepared to answer any questions you ask of a new friend. A stilted, one-sided conversation gives the impression that you don’t actually care to develop a mutually beneficial, healthy friendship. Building a healthy friendship requires a degree of vulnerability between people. Otherwise, any questions to get to know someone can fall flat because there’s little sincerity.