Generally when we enter a room or social setting, we either telegraph an attitude of “Here I am” or “There you are!” It’s worth thinking about which we hope to project, and how we’d do it. Here are some ways to engage others:
1. Rather than asking people what they “do” (implying work), maybe you can ask them what sorts of projects they are working on or what excites them these days (acknowledging that it may or may not be their work).
2. Two directions that often work in conversations are relationships and schedules since everyone has both.* When stuck for something to say, you might ask, “What does a typical day look like for you?” or “Who do you spend time with the most?”
3. That can go deeper by asking what someone would have as their ideal day or what they would dream of for deepening relationships.
4. There’s a concept that each of us has a primary way we like to receive love from others. Simply put, the options are: quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch and receiving gifts.** Introduce this concept, and ask people which of these they like to receive and which they prefer to give.
5. People often like to talk about what they were like as children… but a twist on that is finding out which elements of that still remain in their adult lives. It’s interesting to find out what someone most liked to do when they were in elementary school and if they see traces (or broad swaths) of that in their work and leisure activities now.
6. “What superpower would you most like to have, and why?” can take a conversation in surprising directions.
7. You can gain a ton of insight into someone if you ask, “What single scene in a movie most captures you, and why?”
8. Some people are better at throwing out words or images instead of entire concepts. Ask someone for ten words that describe themself.
9. Most people have some world problem that they are passionate about… it’s intriguing to ask if someone could right one wrong, what it would be and how, specifically, they’d start.
10. Tell us your suggestion at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Author Susan Yates first gave me this idea.
**The book, The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, is the origin of this concept.