Deep Conversations December
How to Go Beyond Small Talk and Have Deeper Conversations
December is here, which means it's time for my favorite holiday song: 'tis the season to make small talk, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la...
Seriously though, December is chock full of holiday parties, and holiday parties are chock full of small talk, be it with your coworkers, bosses, vague acquaintances, or your not-quite-senile uncle.
That said, you don't need to settle for sharing the same elevator pitch about your life over and over and over again. You can mix things up by asking questions that move the conversation away from "how's business?" and "how much snow do you think we'll get this year?" and closer to, "who are you as a person and what might I learn from you?"
So this December, for our final monthly challenge of the year, we're challenging you to have deeper conversations. This is not a post denouncing small talk, but simply a challenge to have more conversations that dive deeper once the initial pleasantries are completed.
The challenge itself is simple: Have four "deep" conversations by the end of the month with four different people. Bonus points if you make them happen with people you're meeting for the first time!
For the sake of this challenge, "deep" conversations will be defined as any conversation that helps you understand a person and why they think/behave the way they do. So the depth comes not from the topic itself, but from the level on which you are engaging with someone. Meaning you could have very superficial conversation about politics, religion, or morality, and a very deep one about superhero movies.
For example, asking, "Which democratic nominee would you like to see win the primary?" does not necessarily mean you'll be having a deep conversation To qualify as helping you understand the person you're talking with and why they think/behave the way you do, this question absolutely needs to be accompanied by why and dive into how this person evaluates candidates. If the person doesn't care much about politics, it's unlikely that this question will lead to a deep conversation. So first, you need to do some work to figure out what this person cares about. Alternatively, asking someone who's just finished raving to you about the latest Avengers film why they love superhero movies could potentially lead to a very deep conversation.
Some General Tips
- Ask exploratory questions to uncover interests
- Then ask follow-up questions that start with why
- Use active listening
While you can make up questions on the fly by following the tips above, you can also keep some "interesting" questions in your back pocket. Here are some of our favorites (keep in mind, all of them should be accompanied by why):
- What's the scariest thing you've ever done?
- What do you miss about being a kid?
- What's your proudest accomplishment?
- What do you like the least about yourself? The most?
- If you had to live in a different country, which would you choose?
- If you were on a crashing plane and knew you had about 60 seconds to live, what would you do?
- What's your earliest memory?
- If you won the lottery tomorrow and got 10 million dollars (post tax ;)), what would you do?
- What three things bring you the most joy?
- What do you think are your greatest strengths at work?
- If you could have any job in the world, which would you choose?
- What's the number one thing you'd like to achieve next year?
- Would you rather die suddenly in your sleep or be told you have a year to live?
- If you could change one thing about the world/society to make it better, what would you change?
- Would you rather never be able to watch TV again or never be able to read books again?
- Would you like to be extremely famous?
- Would you rather never be able to use the internet again or never be able to go outside again?
- How do you react when someone says something that offends you? Do you confront them?
- Do you think happiness is the point of life? If not, what is?
- In what environment do you feel most at ease? Where do you think you 'belong'?
- Which three words do you think your family would use to describe you?
- What's something about you that most people don't know or perceive?
- Who knows you the best in the world?
- What are 5 things you hope someone says in your eulogy when you die? How do you want to be remembered?
Now get conversing! And let us know what other questions you love to ask to spark interesting conversations in the comments.
It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
I sat in front of my CEO to discuss several complaints of racism. I was new to my role as a Culture Director. I was nervous about his reaction to the complaints. But I also knew he strongly supported developing this new department; I knew that he would take the right steps. So I was shocked when I heard him say sheepishly, "I don't know, Noelle...all of this stuff about racism. I just don't see it. I don't even see color. I'm pretty much color blind."
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