Strive to Be More “Interested” than “Interesting”– and Meet Your Goals

“I hate small talk!” said a health care executive working with me to create better relationships with other leaders and her direct reports. “I never know what to say and feel so uncomfortable.”

What she wanted was a laundry list of questions she could ask in social settings before and after meetings.

What she needed was to shift her perspective–by understanding that talk is only “small” if we make it so.

This idea has become even clearer to me as I’ve interviewed leaders across the country on how to build rapport.

One of the insights they’ve shared is that we need to ask better questions. And this starts with knowing why you’re there and what you want to see happen.

One concern I hear is, “What happens if someone asks me a boring question first, like ‘How are you doing?””

Never again say “fine” or “good” — give them an interesting answer.

When this happened to me recently, my response was, “I got to do something fun last weekend. A bunch of us met in a park to hear Motown music. The singer was Gerald McClendon — they call him ‘The Soulkeeper.’ Those songs were made for dancing! We were all on our feet, not caring how we looked. I had forgotten how good it felt to be in a group of people — even at a safe distance. We lived up to one of the tunes they played: ‘Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon.'”

Then I asked, “What was the first concert you went to?” We had a good conversation about music, and I learned fun new things about him — that I can track back to in our next conversation.

Know why you’re there — to build rapport, for example — and what you want to have happen. Then ask questions that take people to a deeper level than ones that create the useless response of “OK.”

Of course this will this be more interesting for you. In addition, other people will experience you as more likeable. After all, research shows that talking about ourselves triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money!