When starting from scratch in a conversation, one option is to begin with simple questions.
Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you here? There are countless similar, small questions. The challenge with small questions is that they are open to interpretation simply because they have too few words for much context to be explicit.
When asked, “Who are you?” I’m left to wonder: Do they want my first name, or should I unpack my recent existential crisis? Do I answer, “Where are you from?” with where I started from this morning, the country I call home, or the story of how my parents first met?
All questions are more or less vauge. You can always choose how you answer any question, by choosing what you imagine is around the question. Simple questions taken at face value have easy answers; Simple questions when you imagine a lot around them, have really hard answers.
If we always give simple answers, then we’ll end up with the dreaded conversations known as “small talk.” Our conversations don’t have to be like that. We can answer questions—even small questions—in ways which create opportunities and open up our conversations. Not every conversation should go to the deepest depths; but we can improve even short, casual conversations that are built around small questions.
Answering questions with a simple answer, and a small amount of additional context, is a great way to expand the conversation. This gives the other person context: how we think, what we are thinking in the moment, what assumptions we made about the other person, and what details of our lives we consider to be worth sharing. By slightly expanding the conversation, we’re inviting our conversation partners to continue.
Although every conversation is different, it’s worthwhile to have considered answers to common, small questions we expect to encounter. We don’t want to become dull by giving flat, canned answers. But having a good answer, where others might stumble, can kick-start a great conversation.
Who am I? I’m Craig Constantine. My mission is creating better conversation to spread understanding and compassion.
Where am I from? I’m from eastern Pennsylvania, about 2 hours west of New York city.
Why am I here? I’m on vacation. We decided to take a long weekend and get in some beach time. (Or, I’m leading a discussion later this weekend; Helping people explore ways to give better answers to common questions.)
If you had asked those questions, I hope you had several thoughts spring to mind reading my answers.
If you gave great answers—a simple answer plus a bit of context—to simple questions, where might your conversations lead?