A Question You Should Ask Every Day
Note to reader: The best part of this post is at the end, but please don't skip ahead.
In my experience, there is a question you can ask almost anybody and make them feel better about themselves and their place in the world. I've used this question for decades on people I meet at work, always with excellent results:
Just out of curiosity, what do you like best about your job?
When asked with true curiosity, this question always gets a positive response, for three reasons.
First, whenever your mind hears a question, it automatically seeks for the answer. Therefore, when you ask somebody a question that requires the other person to find positive things about their job, their mind immediately finds them. (The opposite is also true, BTW. You can make somebody instantly miserable by asking: "What do you hate most about your job?" I don't recommend this.)
Second, when you show true curiosity about what makes other people happy, they are complimented by your interest, feel more comfortable talking to you, and feel more positively about you.
Third, and most importantly, the question is an invitation for the other person to talk about themselves, which in my experience is everyone's favorite topic of conversation.
How It's Worked for Me
Here are a couple of examples of how well this question works.
Back when I was writing my first book about high tech management, I landed an interview with then-HP CEO Lew Platt. Needless to say, Platt was a busy man and the moment I had him on the line, I could tell he just wanted interview over quickly: "I only have a minute..."
Rather than asking the standard corporate strategy questions, I asked: "Mr. Platt, what do you like best about your job?"
There was a long pause, then he says: "You know, you're the first reporter who's ever asked me that."
His voice became noticeably lighter as he started talking about (of all things), how much he enjoyed creating a sense of "healthy paranoia" among his direct reports. Over the next few minutes, I heard what it's really like to run a big company, a perspective that was crucial to my book.
More to the point, at the end of the interview, he said: "You know, Mr. James, I enjoyed our conversation. You made my day."
Here's another example. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a local guy who does home improvement. He started our conversation by complaining about politics, unemployment, how hard it was to find work, and so forth.
As soon as there was break in his depressing litany, I asked, "So, just out of curiosity, what you like best about doing this kind of work?"
I could literally see the weight come off his shoulders and his face lighten up as he explained how much he enjoys working with his hands and how great it feels when he finishes a project. "I like knowing that I built that!"
And, sure enough, almost like clockwork, out it came. "Thanks for asking me that question. You made my day."
The Best Part of this Post
So, hey, I promised that I'd give you the best part of this post at the end and here it is: that magic question works really well when you ask it of yourself!
In other words, whenever you feel down or stressed, you can make your own day by asking yourself:
What do I like best about my job?
I guarantee that this questions works, every time.
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GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.