Posts Tagged ‘These are better icebreaker questions you can ask professionals and acquaintances as you network and connect’

“Where are you from?” “What do you do?”

December 8th, 2017

“Where are you from?” “What do you do?”

These are the classic icebreaker questions that people pose at any event when they’re trying to meet new people and suss out information quickly and easily. (Perhaps too quickly and easily?)

I know I’ve certainly been guilty of going down this route. Growing up in a tightly knit Syrian/Lebanese community in Brooklyn, it was common to hear my relatives ask people where they were from. I guess they wanted to bond with folks from their region of the world and stay clear of others.

Today, things are different in our diverse world. I am still very tempted to ask people where they are from and what type of last name they have. But I hold back because some people get offended or defensive. Eventually over the course of a conversation, we get there. But now I have learned to hold back, get to know the person, and let my nosy, self-centered, inquisitive self find out the answers gradually…and without offending people who feel like they are from here-the U.S. or for whom the question is too complex to answer in a simple way.

This article from Inc. suggests better ways of breaking the ice:

The “What do you do?” inquiry is one that most of us have come to dislike, since it can come off as overly abrupt and not very warm.  And it’s a question we’ve been asked so often — especially in socially unfamiliar situations.  Networking expert Robbie Samuels writes, “In our attempts to engage others, we can really put them off, because we’re not thinking about what it feels like to be asked the same question all the time.”

Recently Samuels blogged about other kinds of innocently curious questions people blurt out upon meeting someone new. “Before uttering the first thought that comes into your head when meeting someone, check first to be sure you’re not asking merely out of curiosity. That usually means you’ve noticed something different about the person in front of you and you’re about to home in on that difference by asking about it. Since that likely happens to this person all day, every day, they’ll give you a pat answer that likely won’t lead to further discussion. You won’t make a great or long-lasting impression and you’ll miss the opportunity to really engage with them.”

So what IS the best way to start a conversation with a new person?

Samuels suggests paying a compliment about what someone is wearing: Sunglasses, scarves, jackets, or jewelry. Note that all of those items are what you might call peripheral gear: You’re respectfully not discussing the garments that are closest to someone’s body. Instead, you’re acknowledging a choice someone made. You are coming nowhere near the mentioning or acknowledging of a physical trait.

And if that approach fails, you can always resort to this safe question: “How did you hear about this event?” Samuels calls it a “can’t-miss opener.”