It’s Not About What You Do, but Why You Do It.

So you’re at a networking event, or a conference, or maybe even a get-together with friends, and you’ve just met someone new. If we have anything in common, I’m going to bet that 9 times out of 10 in this situation, someone will ask the oh-so-common question, “What do you do?” Now, many see this as an easy way to start a conversation. It’s comfortable. You know you will get an answer. Everyone in life does something after all, even if that something consists of sitting on the couch watching Netflix for hours on end every now and then. (I do not suggest you provide this as your response at the next networking event, however).

But there’s potentially a big flaw here. Answering the question “What do you do?” with only a “what” does nothing but scratch the surface. It can easily limit you to merely having a conversation rather than making a real connection. And let’s face it, it’s those real connections that foster the mutually beneficial relationships that can help you succeed in both business and beyond.

So what’s the solution? The next time you’re at a social gathering, whether personal or professional, I encourage you to answer that inevitable question with not only your “what,” but also your “why.”

Why “why”?

There’s a classic TED talk with Simon Sinek called “How great leaders inspire action” (if you haven’t seen it, take those 18 minutes and watch it here). He makes a beautifully crafted, science-backed argument, but one of his statements stands out in particular (maybe because he repeats it throughout the entire speech — a great rhetorical technique, but we can talk about that another time). Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Now obviously we’re not talking about people literally buying you. But when it comes to relationships, especially in a professional sense, you need people to buy into you — not necessarily with their money, but with their attention and their time.

Here is where the “why” comes in. When you talk about your “why,” you are offering whomever you are speaking to a window into your passions, your goals, and whatever it may be that engages your emotions — rather than that which simply occupies your time. The “why” is what allows people to relate as humans rather than as parts of a productivity machine that we often refer to as ‘work’.

We all know by now that humans are emotional beings. And when you talk about your “why,” you create an opportunity to appeal to the emotions of another. This is the moment when you can really, truly, get someone’s attention and transform your conversation into a connection. Think about it. Would you rather listen to someone talk about their daily tasks or about what gets them excited?

What you do does not necessarily define who you are, but why you do it — your purpose, your mission — comes a lot closer. And how will anyone ever know what compels you to get out of bed in the morning unless you open up and share it?