What was your grandfather's job?
Let's use creativity to remember those face-to-face events to which we were so excited to participate in, listening to interesting speakers, meet and connect with other participants and revel in the social nature of such conferences and congresses that were the norm before the pandemic.
I wrote this article for the conference Understanding Risk Central America event held in Costa Rica held at the beginning of February 2020 where more than 600 people participated and to which I was invited to promote networking activities and stimulate creativity during the event.
Let's mentally travel to that type of context, a congress with various conference rooms, people we want to listen to, people we want to contact, for sure we want to make the most of this event.
We know that networking is important, but we feel that when we interact with other people we are not getting beyond an initial contact and we wonder why this situation is.
It is possible that what is happening to us is that we are approaching the other person in a classic, conventional way, and that is also unattractive to build relationships. Normally our initial question, the one that breaks the ice, is the usual one. What do you do?
This question quickly sets a boundary around the conversation that the other person is now a "work" contact and we may not be able to connect further with this person.
To build stronger relationships one should consider asking other questions with something unrelated to work, something that makes the conversation engaging and streamlined. Always keeping in mind that the objective is to direct the conversation back to work-related topics since we are not making a circle of friends but professional networking.
Therefore, the idea is that we are aware that the more stimulating the initial dialogue, the more possibilities of having a conversation that allows us to find interesting points on both sides and leads us to create a connection.
Before looking at some questions that could be useful, it is important to understand that if we intend to start a dialogue with the other person, then the questions must be open and allow the exchange of ideas. Let's call them "energizing questions."
The characteristics of these dynamic questions are:
As they are open, what we want is to obtain answers beyond a simple yes or no.
They are focused on emotions, on how the person feels, and not on rationality.
They look to the future, oriented towards a solution rather than a problem. We can ask about what we think will be possible in the future or something that we solve in such a way and will serve for the future.
We can cover personal questions, not just professional ones. Paying attention that depending on the cultural context, asking personal questions can seem very direct and invasive in some cases. Therefore, deciding when to use them depends on many contextual clues that we have at that precise moment in which we are establishing that contact.
But if we do not feel completely comfortable that our first approach is with a personal question, then the important thing is to ask a question open enough to allow the other person to give answers that are not work-related if they wish.
For example, if we asked the other person, what makes you happy? there would be a wide variety of possible answers. The person would have the possibility and freedom to give an answer related to work or to talk about her family, or her new project, or anything that excites her, that brings her happiness.
Another interesting example is knowing where the other person is from, what their story is. Instead of asking Where are you from? It is better and more efficient to ask Where did you grow up? since it allows you to answer with simple details from childhood or share the story of how that person got to where they are at the moment and what are doing.
One of the most creative I've heard is asking the other person what did your grandfather do? What was his job? Since, although it is a personal question because it is different and out of context, it helps you break the ice in a very original way.
Picture by Jesse Orrico on Unsplash
Some open questions that we could ask the other person offering the possibility of giving a large number of answers to choose from to their liking:
What was the most significant thing that happened to you this year?
What is your favorite Marvel character?
What is the most important thing I should know about you?
What has been the best professional advice you have ever received?
Where and when do you get the most creative ideas?
What book would you recommend me to read?
If you were a teacher of creativity, who would you invite to motivate your students?
What or what changes have your company/organization undergone in the last 2 years?
What TEDx talk would you recommend me to watch?
None of the above questions may be of use to us in certain contexts.
The important thing to keep in mind is that we have to be innovative and not always stay under the standard questions, since people probably listen to them very often and they do not give it value, it does not allow us to start a fluid dialogue. Let's not forget that beyond our words, people will remember how they have felt interacting with us.
We can conclude that it is essential not to be afraid to be creative and risky when asking our questions towards the people with whom we are connecting. We will get out of the monotony and thus we will take a firm first step to create connections.
We can apply all these ideas perfectly to these moments where we make online connections due to mobility restrictions as a consequence of the Covid situation. I have personally used some of these questions in my recent “virtual networking” activities and I can say that they have worked, helping me to create strong, relaxed, and much more enriching connections.
Why not try some creativity at your next meeting/networking?