Ditch “How’s it going” — What You Should Be Asking Instead

?How are you??

?How?s it going??

?What have you been up to??

?What do you do??

These questions can be incredibly boring and tend to be accompanied by the same meaningless answers?

?I?m good? ?Work is good? ?Things are good? blah blah blah?.

Perhaps we ask these questions out of politeness or maybe you genuinely do care how someone is doing ? the point is we?ve been conditioned to ask these default questions whether we encounter an old friend or meet someone for the very first time.

In the hopes of getting to know others better and engage in more meaningful and memorable conversations, I decided to try a social experiment.

What would happen if I changed my first question from different variations of ?How?s it going?? and instead asked a backpocket question.

Backpocket Questions

A backpocket question is designed to avoid a default response by inviting the other person to open up and share something meaningful or interesting you might otherwise have missed.

I created a variety of these style questions I could pull out of my proverbial backpocket to spice things up:

?What?s something you?re excited about right now??

?What?s something you?re looking forward to??

?Who is the most interesting person you know and why??

?Who do you think is the most interesting person here and why??

?What?s the best trip you?ve ever taken and why??

?Do you have any trips coming up??

?What?s your favorite {fill in the blank}??

I tried it out the list of questions on an acquaintance to try and learn something new about him (beyond our shared love of blues dancing). After saying hello, I jumped right in with one of my favorite backpocket questions ?What?s something you?re excited about right now?? His eyes immediately lit up and he went on to share all about a project he was working on in detail with intense excitement.

At the end of the conversation he said, ?No one has ever asked me that kind of question.?

The experiment was a success and my friend clearly appreciated my thoughtful question.

How to Create Your Own Backpocket Questions

  • Be thoughtful. Ask a question likely to invoke a positive memory or response (e.g. a vacation they recently took, fun side/passion project they?ve been working on, their dog, anything that excites them).
  • Though no one will admit to it, everyone enjoys talking about themselves. Ask questions that puts the focus on your conversation partner in a positive light. (e.g. What is a recent accomplishment you?re most proud of?)
  • Ask a question with the intention to learn something new and listen closely to the response so you can follow-up with another thoughtful question.
  • If they posted, published, shared, or created something recently, ask them about it. Be creative! (e.g. ?I saw your post about AI on LinkedIn. Did you receive any comments that surprised you??)

Part 2 ? Answering the ?What do you do?? Question

After successfully replacing ?How?s it going??, I decided to tackle the more difficult networking default question, ?What do you do?? When personally asked this question, I often toy with the idea of saying I?m professional hooper and, though I do hoop for fun, might be best to avoid starting off a conversation with a lie.

So instead when I hear those four words ?What do you do?? I respond with a follow-up question:

?Do you mean what do I do for work, fun, pleasure, when I?m spending time with friends??

You get the gist. I know they really mean, ?What do you do for work,? but this response ups the engagement level. People are often surprised by my response and rightfully so, as they?re used to receiving default responses.

A few get it, laugh and go along. Others aren?t as comfortable with the playfulness of the conversation and say something along the lines of ?I meant for work?.

If you can learn to engage with others in a creative thoughtful way you?ll create more memorable and deeper conversations with them. Backpocket questions are a great tool if you?re networking, at a party, trying to get someone?s attention, or build relationships with others.

Backpocket Question Challenge

The next time you?re tempted to ask a boring default question I challenge you to ditch it and venture out by asking a backpocket question instead!

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