The question “What do you do?” almost always comes up in conversation when I first meet someone. My response is “I sell T-shirts.” My answer is not really an answer but more of an invitation for further inquiry, which most people do not act upon. Luckily, that does not stop the onslaught of questions that I send their way. “What do you do?” is not my first pick for an opening line of interrogation. I would prefer questions like “Tell me something amazing about yourself, no pressure” or “If you were stuck on an island and could only eat one thing, what would it be?” But I am just as happy to dig into what people do.
Whatever you do, I have questions for you. Dentist: What is your favorite tooth number? Hedge fund guy: What is the coolest investment you are in now? Contract lawyer: What is the longest contract you had to review? Any retailer: What is the gross margin on your product? Buyer: How many SKUs do you manage? Social media guru: what is your favorite platform? Air condition repairman: Do you prefer working in the winter or summer? The guy who is paid by the city to make sure that I don’t cut down trees around my retail stores: Have the trees been getting enough rain this summer? And if you do something that I have never heard of, you better take a load off because I need to learn.
I do this because I am genuinely interested in people. There are such great stories, such interesting facts, and such funny quirks right under the surface of people all around us. I like to scratch that surface and get a glimpse of what is underneath. Not everyone is receptive and the conversation usually starts off awkward as the person tries to understand why I am asking so many questions. But once that passes, the stories, facts, and quirks begin to surface.
I have learned some awesome things about new people and old friends: Josh has tried out for hundreds of game shows; Brenda lived for 7 years abroad jumping around countries; Mary doesn’t like to wear tank tops because her arms intimidate guys (she’s a sick climber).
Occasionally I cross the line…. Like when I asked Lorraine, my wife, her credit score on our second date…. or this past weekend when I asked a friend how much weight she has gained since she got pregnant… or when I asked Ezra’s Canadian girlfriend of 3 weeks if she was trying to marry him for a green card (they just got married, BTW). But the speed bumps are negligible compared to the great conversation and friendships that were produced.
Ask more questions; dig deeper. Don’t let your next conversation be the same as the last. Get a little uncomfortable. And you might find out what the best selling t-shirt color is from the guy who sells t-shirts. Ok fine, its heather coral.