Stop asking "what do you do?" and ask these 3 words instead

A few months ago I asked a new acquaintance “what do you do?” and her response reminded me why it’s such a terrible icebreaker.

“That’s a good question” she uttered, with a sigh of disengagement. Turns out, she was lacking direction in her career, and by bringing it up, I’d killed the mood.

We ask “what do you do?” with good intentions; it’s just a common conversation piece to learn more about the other person.

But when fewer than 1/3rd of Americans feel engaged at work, the question “what do you do?” is unlikely to be met with much enthusiasm (Gallup )

After some research and experimentation, I think I’ve found a better go-to icebreaker.

The Broaden-and-Build Theory of positive psychology dictates that positive emotions like joy, excitement, and anticipation increase awareness and exploratory thoughts and actions. In short, happy people open up.

If we can start the conversation with a question that makes the other person feel good, we’re more likely to create a positive connection.

But what are people excited to talk about? If we’re just meeting them, we have no idea. It could be old muscle cars, cryptocurrency, or Croatia.

So why not ask?

“What excites you?”

Most people are much more excited to talk about their loves, passions, and hobbies than their jobs. However, should they have an awesome job worth mentioning, this icebreaker doesn’t preclude them from bringing it up.

“What excites you?” is significanly more likely to elicit a positive response than “what do you do?” and the answer will likely be more enjoyable to hear, as well.

Ask someone new “what excites you?” this week, and let me know how it goes.

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