I couldn’t help but overhear this gentleman’s conversation about a restaurant he runs. So I decided to ask him about it. Fast forward 25 minutes, and I just heard his entire life story. He gave me an expensive Cigar and his business card.
Here’s how it panned out. I’m sitting down in a fairly empty local coffee shop, and I overhear the two people next time talking. It was an interesting conversation about the restaurant industry and his experience running restaurants.
I’m not much of a snooper of conversations, but I really wanted to meet this person, simply out of curiosity and the potential hopes of meeting someone that I can learn more from.
So, I decided to ask him a question.
“Excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I’m a little curious. How did you get into the restaurant business? I’ve heard that restaurants are hard businesses to run and it seems like you’ve run them for a while. What’s the secret?”
He spent the next 30 minutes talking about his life story. His tragic car accident that changed his life. How his father got him into the business, and all the successes and failures along the way. He loved me. I only asked one question.
He knew nothing about me. He didn’t know what I did for a living if I’m married or why I had a laptop in front of me. Why did he tell me this story, when he obviously had better things to do? Let’s break down my question.
“Excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.”
Being polite and acknowledging what you’re doing goes a long way.
“I’m a little curious”
Curious is a strong word. It shows that I’m genuinely interested in how he accomplished something or something about him. Curious is a word that people love because they love giving insights into something they know.
“How did you get into the restaurant business?”
I knew that to answer this question, he had to go back 20-30 years, which he would love to do. I could have stopped there, but I really wanted to stroke his ego, so I added an “I’ve heard restaurants are hard to run, how did you manage to do it for so long!”Asking questions is a great way to get to know someone new. I have a simple formula for asking better questions.
Want someone to talk? Be interested in them. And the best way to be interested in someone is to show that you’re curious about them. Everyone wants to feel special, and share insights that they’ve learned the hard way.
Be genuine with them, and they will be genuine back to you
Stroke their ego.
You may think you’re the most humble person alive, but I guarantee you that if I say something flattering about you, but not too flattering to be obvious, you’ll eat it up.
A quick compliment can get someone to open up quickly. It’s not always obvious what to compliment them on, but once you find something, go for it. By complimenting them, you’ve established with the other person that this will be a friendly conversation and that you’re going to be easy to talk to.
Get them to talk about their journey.
The reason this gentleman opened up to me was that I simply asked about his journey. I wanted to know what made him successful and what he can share with me. Instead of asking “how do you run a restaurant”, I started with “how did you get into the restaurant industry?” I established curiosity and I got him to reflect on his life.
As soon as I asked him that question, I knew he was going to open up.
So, the next time you’re meeting with someone and you want to ask a better question, make sure you’re genuinely curious about them, flatter them a bit and get them to talk about their journey.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com. More from Inc.
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