In a recent article, Marguerite Ward asked: if you looked at the co-worker sitting closest to you, would you be able to say what his or her favorite food or hobby is?

Research shows that having meaningful work relationships pays off and leads to greater workplace satisfaction. Ward highlights three unusual questions that a Google exec is likely to ask an employee to get to know her or him better and create more meaningful connections. The questions - which can be asked at the start of a team meeting or as part of the small talk during the first round of drinks - are:

  • What's on your bucket list?
  • What's the craziest thing that you have ever done?
  • And, What's your favorite color?

These questions don't have right or wrong answers. Rather, they're designed to spark authentic dialogue and get people to reveal something important about themselves. The goal is to help others understand what they're passionate about, what matters the most to them, and what gets them out of bed in the morning.

So, whether it's you're interviewing a prospective employee or onboarding a new member of the team, you should always start with questions that don't have exact right answers. Focus on how you can start an engaging conversation, versus conduct an intimidating interrogation.

Great questions encourage each of us to share more about ourselves and what we value most, and to listen with open ears and curiosity about our colleagues. In this mental space, people start to open up and you are able to build something authentic together.

Here are 20 open-ended questions I believe can be the key to turning any interview, ice breaker, team meeting or dinner conversation into a meaningful personal connection.

  1. What do you do when you relax?
  2. What was your dream job when you were a kid?
  3. What is the failure that you most cherish? Why?
  4. What is the most valuable thing that you own?
  5. How would you describe a perfect day?
  6. If you could go back five years in your life, what advice would you give yourself?
  7. If you wrote a book, what would the title be?
  8. If you could be any age for a week, what age would you be?
  9. What experiences have most shaped who you are today?
  10. What is your biggest fear?
  11. If you could go any place in the world right now, where would you go?
  12. If you could have one super power, which would you choose?
  13. What makes you feel most fulfilled?
  14. What are you most passionate about?
  15. What is your greatest learning from your hobbies?
  16. What's your story?
  17. What personal passion project are you working on right now?
  18. What would you like to create in the world that doesn't exist, that you would endure personal sacrifice to bring to life?
  19. What are you most proud of?
  20. What is the best question you have ever been asked?

In each case there is not right or wrong answer, only a mutual conversation that starts us on a path to appreciating the depth of talent, and often dormant human spirit that might be sitting right next to us.