Our voluntary “boxes” and asking better questions

A couple of days ago I attended a TEDxWomen event. There, at the networking session I was once again faced with that classic phrase: “And who are you? What do you do?”… Somehow those two completely different questions are often put together as if they mean the same thing. Yet, obviously “who you are” does not equal “what you do”. Moreover, even “what do you do?” is not the best question to ask. In a networking situation, you are not that much interested in what a person does, you want to know if you two can connect and bring each other certain value. You are interested in the 2nd degree connections or in skills that this person has. You might want to know what drives that person and what makes him go the extra mile. You might want to know if you can share the journey.

All this made me think about “boxes”: those voluntary categories we gladly put ourselves in. “I am a lawyer”, “I am a nurse”, “I am an engineer”, “I am a pilot”, “I am…” So you truly believe that this one descriptive is supposed to explain who we are?

What also strikes me is – that we always encourage people to think outside the box, yet we grab every opportunity to sort everybody in boxes and conveniently crawl into one ourselves.

So I wonder why don’t we start asking better questions during networking? What if we would ask questions like:

  • who are your customers and what is the value you want to bring them? maybe I can help or get you in touch with somebody?
  • what is that thing that drives you at this moment? what inspires you in what you are doing?
  • what type of people do you gladly connect with? what do you have in common with them?

The questions above are just first examples that came to mind. Of course they are also not ideal, yet they are already more, so-to-say – rich, than “what do you do?”. Obviously, it makes sense to know the answers for yourself. However, a good question is already a huge step to an answer. To conclude, I would like to leave you with this: next time you are up for a networking event, try to avoid the “boxes” and ask those questions for which you would really want to get an answer.


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