Imagine you meet someone new, or you are on a date, what is the first question (given you know the name already) you ask? I bet it might be something along the lines of: “What are you doing?”. It is a natural think to ask. We are curious and want to get to know the other person and what defines us more than what we are doing? But does it though?
Think about it. Are you defined but what you are doing? Specifically, what you job is? That is the main way we understand the question. We rarely answer with what we do in our free time and who we meet with. I acknowledge that it is a big part of our lives. I just want to say that I am only partially defined by my job.
The question is so common because it helps us to paint a picture of the other person. When hearing a certain job title, we automatically connect certain ideas and expectations with this. We want to quickly assess the person and decide how we continue the talk from that point on.
However, there is a better way to find out what kind of person I am. It might sound counterintuitive but what you could ask is: “What are your parents and your five best friends doing?”.
The answer to this question tells us a lot. It helps us to assess your family situation and maybe partially your upbringing. If your parents are doctors tells a specific story as well as if your parents are social workers etc. But this would only provide half of the picture. What your best friends do says a lot about you. We tend to choose our friends based on shared values, ideas and convictions. It gives a more complete picture of who you are. And, you can also draw conclusions from comparing what his/her parents are doing and what his/her friends are doing.
It also signals that you are interested in their lives. Moreover, it is also easier to present our family and friends in a good light than ourselves. We might fear to seem bragging or self-centered. Or the other way around, we might say not much and we might be perceived as shy or not interested although we are just uncomfortable presenting ourselves.
When I selected facilitators for a conference, one question in the application was: “Who are you”. The goal was to describe themselves in as much detail as they want. The best answer I got was from a guy who wrote that he is convinced that what his five best friends are doing says much more than anything he could write about himself. And yes, he also said something about himself. The application was very long =). But it was still this answer who convinced me.
So, the next time you meet someone new, you might want to ask a different question:
What are your parents and your five best friends doing?