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Give Interesting Answers to Mundane Questions

Written by: Bill Sherman on Saturday, 1 March 2008, 8:26 PM

When you work with someone in the same office, you pass them in the hall and meet them at conference rooms. When you stop by their desk, you’ll see their personal stuff–pictures of children, awards, cartoons, etc. You can follow visual clues to get to know the individual as a person beyond work.

If you live in the same city, you can give them a call and invite them to lunch, dinner, or even for a weekend event at your house. You’ll learn how they dress, how they carry themselves, and what that quirky half-smile really means. If their eyes sparkle and they lean in during a conversation, you know that you have their interest.

Your friends and colleagues also rely on these signals from you.

When you maintain virtual relationships with colleagues and clients, it’s important to remember an important foundational rule: “there is no water cooler.” Sure, you’ll talk with these people via the phone (individually and on conference calls). You’ll trade e-mails and perhaps even trade online message. If the two of you follow predictable habits you’ll spend most of your time talking about work and projects. You might even talk about the weather.

In a world of virtual relationships, that’s not enough. You have to fine-tune your listening skills and find ways to engage in meaningful non-work conversations.

Transform mundane conversations into the exceptional. You know (and perhaps dread) the empty conversations that are filer. Many people don’t know how to build relationships by e-mail or phone, so take a dull question and give an interesting, personal answer that reveals something about you and your passions.

Here are a few examples:

  1. You know, it’s raining right now, and I’m hoping that it clears up this afternoon. My son’s high-school marching band will be performing at tonight’s game, and I’d prefer not to pack a poncho when I sit in the stands.
  2. It’s gorgeous. It’s bluebonnet season in the Texas Hill Country. I went out for a walk at lunchtime, and the hills painted with red, blue, and yellow flowers. This is my favorite season here in Texas, and I look forward to it every year.
  3. We’ve had more snow here in Wisconsin this year than we’ve had in five years. This weekend, I’m going cross-country skiing with some of my buddies whom I’ve known since our college days together.

When someone asks a question, seed your answer with hooks about yourself and your interests. In each of the above examples, there are multiple hooks. You invite your listener to ask a question where they can learn more about you. If you listen carefully to the types of questions they ask, you will learn something about them as well.

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