The dreaded question “What do you do?” can be a little uncomfortable, but what’s worse is it offers little for your conversation partner to respond to. Instead, ask how they work.
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.
As business blog Inc. points out, many people enjoy explaining how they do their work. If you ask what they do, they may say “I’m a graphic designer,” which is a single sentence reply. Ask them to explain what doing that work is like, however, and they will give you a detailed look into the life of a digital artist. The latter can make for much more fascinating conversation:
We all know to ask new connections about their work, but the form these questions take usually focuses on the what of a person’s career — What’s your job? or What do you do? While failing to engage model Bar Raefeli in conversation during a 2009 interview, [Esquire editor Ross McCammon] came up with a better alternative. Don’t ask what someone does. Instead ask how they do what they do.
“People love talking about what they actually do for a living. Not their jobs but their work,” he explains in the Science of Us post. “There’s so much technical stuff — even if you don’t have a technical job, there are so many little technical things that even your partner or spouse might not know about, just these little triumphs or bursts of creativity, or failures, mistakes, that go into a single workday. And I’m kind of obsessed with those small things, those little mistakes.”
This strategy can apply to more than just work. Asking someone what their hobbies are will generally be less interesting than asking about the details of how it works. Hearing that someone paints isn’t as engaging as hearing how one goes about learning to paint, or what techniques they use. Regardless of the topic, if you treat someone’s work or hobbies as though they’re interesting, you’re more likely to find that they really are.