There is an impulse shared by basically everyone when meeting someone new. In a casual conversation, people are largely more inclined to share their own subjective experiences than to ask follow-up questions about someone else’s interests.
It’s human nature, and it follows a familiar pattern, outlined clearly on TikTok by Danielle Bayard Jackson (aka the friendship expert). In the video below, you’ll see how easily the scales of a conversation can be tipped to one side.
As Jackson explains, your budding relationships might die on the vine if you choose to talk about yourself before asking a few follow-ups.
Asking questions can establish common ground
If you probe beneath the surface when getting to know someone, you’re more likely to establish common ground that can later help form the basis of your relationship, while merely sharing your own perspective can limit the scope of your discussion.
It seems self-evident that you need to listen when other people talk, but far too often conversations become exercises in trading individualised experiences and preferences. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does limit the breadth of a conversation, and in fact diminishes the true value of a conversation — truly interacting with the other participant. Asking questions shows you are invested in learning a bit more about the other person so you can establish a bond.
Considering asking more open questions
You don’t need whip out a pen and paper and interview the person you’re speaking to, but it doesn’t hurt to keep in mind the kind of questions you might want to ask.
Consider whether you’d like to use closed questions or open questions. Closed questions don’t merit a longer explanation, but rather a short, definitive answer. (Example: “How long have you been playing basketball?” is a closed question, as the answer can be usually be given in a few words without further explanation).
An open question can be short and sweet, but it usually elicits a longer explanation, such as “what was that like for you?” or “how have you been dealing with that?” An open question is more likely to spark an involved conversation, as it shows you’re willing to engage and listen.
If all else fails, just talk about yourself
The goal here is to inspire some kind of mutual interest, but it’s possible that the person you’re speaking to won’t reciprocate with their own questions. If that’s the case, go ahead and talk about yourself. It’s likely that the other person just isn’t aware the conversation has become one-sided; just because they’ve been remiss in questioning you doesn’t necessarily mean they’re self-absorbed.
And once you do start sharing details about yourself, it’s likely that their questions will naturally follow.