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Observe more. Ask questions.

I cannot recall where I first saw this, but be it known that this is not my idea, but something I’ve taken up as a challenge. The author essentially avoids asking people what they do, as a conversation starter. He pointed to the emphasis it places on our careers and how it is not a terribly good at getting to know the person. (I searched “avoiding the question what do you do” and got a few search results that more or less echo whatever it is that I read before.)

The challenge here is to see how long you can go without asking the question “what do you do?”

The question is an unfortunate one in that it is rather vague. If you really want to ask someone about their career, it makes more sense to ask it more directly. This begs the question, what do we really want to know when we ask the question? One writer suggests the question “what excites you?” as an alternative. It’s a bit awkward, but their point is well taken. Asking something less typical can elicit a more meaningful response and it might even catch the person off guard, requiring them to actually consider the question.

I catch myself asking this and realize it’s mostly out of laziness or simply a lack of focus in the moment. Surely there is a more intriguing question or a basic starter question to engage with someone. It reminds me of those times when people start talking about the weather. (I am guilty there too, but in the case someone brings up weather I try to connect it to something else. “Yeah, that was a miserably cold day, but it sure does help keep the ski slopes from melting away. Do you ski at all?)