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What’s better than “how are you?”

Do you ever feel anxious about going to work networking events, or parties where you only know the host?

Have you ever wished that a dinner where you’re supposed to meet your partner’s friends would get cancelled?

If this sounds familiar, I’m right there with you.

Recently, a woman approached me after I did a presentation about communication. She asked me for tips on how introverts can survive networking events, just like the one we were at. I chuckled and told her that I’m an introvert myself and face the same challenge.

Although I love deep and meaningful conversations, I’m not a fan of walking into a room full of unfamiliar faces and starting from scratch.

However, building relationships, advancing your career, or growing your network often requires us to do just that.

Over the years, one thing that has helped me is asking different questions from the ones we typically expect.

For instance, last weekend, when I was buying groceries at Aldi, a friendly young man with curly hair and a big smile greeted me at the checkout and asked, “How’s your day been so far?”

That was already a better start than the usual “How are you?”

I replied that my day was going well, thinking that would be the end of it. But then he asked me, “What’s on for the afternoon?” I told him that I would be shuttling my kids to and from sports.

He followed up with, “What sport do they play?” When I said football and basketball, he asked, “What club do they play for?” And the conversation continued in this way until he had scanned all my groceries and I had paid the bill.

As I walked away, I was beaming from the experience. I reflected on the power of asking slightly different questions when you meet people. We had skipped the usual “How are you?” exchange and had a real conversation in less than five minutes.

Before I left the store, I looked back and saw that the young man had started the same enthusiastic questioning with the next customer.

It was that easy.

He was genuinely interested, he dug a little deeper, and it was never uncomfortable.

Using thoughtful questions to connect made my shopping experience a pleasant surprise.

Do you have any non-standard questions that you use to get a conversation started? To avoid meaningless small-talk that goes nowhere.

Because once you get going, it’s so much easier to continue.

Be like the Aldi guy and use questions to make meeting new people something you look forward to.

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