As we all know, one of the keys to building good relationship is to get to know someone; to find out about them – how they think, what’s important to them, etc. Most of us are good at asking the usual business-related questions such as  “What is this project about?”,  “Who else is working with you on it?”,  “What’s the goal?”, etc.

But sometimes the less business-related questions come across as superficial.  You know, questions like, “Did you see that game last night?” , “What do you do for fun?”, “What do you think about this weather?”, etc.  We’ve all asked and answered questions like this so many times that it almost becomes rote to respond.

If we really want to get to know someone, we need to go beyond the rote. We need questions that go beyond the shallow without getting overly personal or intrusive.  Seems like a slippery slope.  Not necessarily so.  Here are examples of open questions that will help you get to know the person beyond their usual business persona. As you will notice, not only is it key to ask open questions, it’s also key to ask questions across a spectrum.

QUESTIONS THAT REQUIRE THOUGHT:
Environment:  What was going on?
Behaviors:  What were you doing?
Capabilities:  How were you doing it?  What skills did you use?
Identity:  What’s your role in this?
Values:  What’s important to you about this?
Vision:  Who else is involved?  (big picture)

Note these questions fall into categories — Environment, Behavior, etc.  When you use questions that elicit a spectrum of information, you realize a more robust understanding.

HOW IT WORKS:

You might be asking someone about a favorite hobby, such as golf:
“What’s important about golf to you?”  (values)
“What you do off the course that would tell me you’re a golfer?” (identity)
“Where do you most like to play?  *What makes it your favorite?” (environment and values)
“What was your best round?”  “What did you do that made it good?”  (behaviors)
“What does being a golfer say about who you are?” (identity)
“Who else do you like to play with?” “What makes them so enjoyable?” (vision and values)
“When do you ever not enjoy golf?” (identity)
“How does golf impact how you live your life/spend your time?” (values)

Clearly, these questions are a little different than the usual you might ask someone about golf such as “What do you shoot?”, “Who would be your fantasy foursome?”, “Did you watch the Open on TV?”, etc.  Nothing wrong with these questions in themselves. But they don’t lead you to a richer understanding.  The usual questions are quick, easy to answer because we’ve probably thought about them before.

The questions we’re proposing require a little more thought in order to respond; hence you’re learning more about the person.  So the takeaway here is to focus on questions that require more than the usual thought to respond.

Notice the italicized words – these are key phrases you can use in many contexts.  Once you get accustomed to them, this way of asking questions will start to flow naturally.  It’s kind of like learning a new language – soon you’ll be fluent and readily create thoughtful questions in your personal style.

AN IMPORTANT ASPECT…

of getting to know someone is to encourage him to open up. So in addition to using questions that require some thought, you can learn about a person using the little prompt questions, such as “Say more”, “Hm”, or “How are you thinking about…?”, “What did you like about it?”, “What made you think that?”, “Say more about your thinking”. You may be amazed at how much you will learn.