People love talking about themselves. Though some are more prone to attention seeking than others, we are all subject to this. It’s natural, we want to talk about the things we are passionate about and we want validation for our accomplishments. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s the reason I have forgone the standard approach to networking and adopted my own.

Though I love meeting new people and and sharing my ideas, I became exhausted after months of surface deep encounters and very limited potential for establishing quality relationships. Everyone I met was fell into one of three categories:

  • Looking for a job
  • Looking for investors
  • Looking for top tier talent

As soon as you get to the point in the conversation that you can’t (or are not interested) in filling one of these needs, you can often visually see their body language change as they scope the room for their next target and look for ways to exit the conversation.

I get it, we all have goals to accomplish and lives we want to build. But a life without deep relationships and quality experiences is no life at all. That’s why instead of pitching everyone I meet, I investigate first. The questions I ask aren’t just “so what do you do?” or “what brings you here tonight?”. I don’t really care what you do, I care about what you love and what’s keeping you from doing it every second you are awake. As humans we are driven by two primary motivations, happiness and survival. We first want to avoid pain while achieving happiness. The problem is that often we have to go through some pain to get to the happiness.

That is where relationships come in and why you should be genuinely curious about not only what makes someone happy but also what is bringing them pain. Without this knowledge, how can you possibly know how you can provide value to their lives. Pains can come in many different forms, a team may want someone for business development so they can focus on software, or someone that can build complex data structures so they design the client-side application, or maybe they just need someone with some personality to liven up the office. The point is you can’t possibly know what kind of value you can bring to the team until you ask them. If you try to pitch yourself first, you’re probably just spinning wheels and might lose out on a potentially great connection.

The struggle is getting past the initial awkwardness of meeting someone new. I can tell you from experience though, that opening with a creative question may seem weird, but you can visually see the difference it has on people. Most people stop in their tracks, surprised that they have actually been asked something about their passion, and also makes them think. They can’t give the standard response they have grown accustomed to, and I guarantee they will remember you above the 20 other people that give them their pitch that night.

So what questions do I ask? I go into any social situation with three questions locked and loaded, the first two can be applied to any situation and any industry, the last is completely dependent on you and what you want to get out of the conversation (or what they can get out of it).

  1. If you could be doing anything with your life right now, what would it be? — 9/10 people really have to think about this, most people haven’t actually thought this through. You will get some very interesting responses from this question and instantly the conversation turns from surface level chat to a meaningful conversation.
  2. What’s preventing you from doing it? — This is where you discover what their pain is. It not only forces them to think about what’s keeping them from the life they want or their goals, but also let’s you discover a pain that you can potentially relieve. It’s very important at this point to determine if you can provide professional help to them or not. Please don’t lose interest if you can’t, to be successful in this approach you have to want to help people achieve their goals regardless if it benefits you or not.
  3. Do you think <x> can help you? — This is the seg-way that will help them solve their pain, regardless if it’s you solving it or not. For me personally it is most often teamwork. My passion is in developing teams to achieve high performance and longevity. Most problems people have in their business is lack of teamwork, either they don’t have the right team or don’t know how to manage the team they do have. I can apply my experience to their situation.

Even if you don’t walk away with what you want for yourself, almost every time your conversation partner will have gained value, and they will remember. They’ll probably forget about all the pitches they heard that night demanding their attention, but they will not forget that person who asked them thought provoking questions that really challenged their mentality. So instead of focusing on yourself, find out how you can serve others, I guarantee it will give back tenfold.

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