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3 Steps to Get to Know People Faster

Whenever we begin working with a new client in a training program, we work to involve that person’s manager in some of the initial planning. We’ve found over the years that when managers are involved early in the process, we discover more about how to help the employee develop faster.

I the course of planning logistics for conversations in the past, it’s happened on more than one occasion that someone has said something almost exactly like this:

Well, I’d love to involve my manager, but I’m not even sure they even know my name. I never see them and we barely know each other.

In fairness, I’ve most often heard this when managers were located in another place geographically (why this entirely prevents relationship building, I don’t know). Yet, for every time I’ve heard this, ten times I’ve heard the complaint that the employee didn’t feel like their manager knew that much about them.

Having served many organizations over the years, I know that, on the contrary, many of the managers we work with are searching for faster and better ways to get to know people well. In fact, most everyone appreciates the importance of this.

They just don’t always know where to start.

If you’re looking for a roadmap to get to know people faster and more genuinely, here’s the three-step process for an “interview” that we teach in our Leadership Training for Managers course:

1. Start With the Facts

A mistake that’s often made when getting to know someone is starting with too much, too quickly. Most sustainable relationships start with rapport-building, and that’s best done with simple, factual questions to learn about another person.

Here are a few factual questions you may consider starting with:

  • Where did you grow up?

  • What was your first job?

  • What were your interests in school?

  • How long have you worked here?

  • What do you do for recreation?

Factual questions are limitless and easy to answer. Ask them and stop to listen what people say. Be curious. Many people have interesting stories about their lives and what’s brought them to where they are today.

Here is 7 minutes of audio demonstrating factual questions.

2. Learn About a Person’s Motives

When you get the sense that rapport-building is going well, it may be time to start asking some causative questions. This will help you learn about why a person has made the decisions they’ve made and, in turn, what things motivate them. Here are examples:

  • Why did you pick that particular school?

  • What caused you to study…?

  • What caused you to pursue this/that profession?

  • How did you happen to come to work for this/that organization?

  • How did you get involved with this/that particular hobby?

While there’s nothing necessary wrong with just coming out and asking a person what motivates them, a lot of people don’t know how to answer that question. However, almost everyone can answer questions like the above and, based upon how they do, you’ll get real insight into their motives.

Here is 8 minutes of audio demonstrating causative questions.

3. Discover the Worth a Person Places on Things

I’ve run into managers before who have heard that it’s important to know the values of the people they lead. As a result, I’ve heard of people asking about a person’s values in a first conversation.

While everyone has values, most people don’t know how to answer a direct question like, “What are your values?” Even more of an issue, it’s an awkward place to start a first conversation.

Instead, once you’ve built rapport using the first two steps above (either over a long conversation or, perhaps better, a series of conversations) you can consider some value-based questions such as these:

  • Tell me about a person that had a major impact on you.

  • If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

  • As you look back over your career, tell me about a turning point.

  • Tell me about something that you look back on as a high point or a point of pride.

  • What words of wisdom would you give a young person (your son or daughter) if he or she sought your advice?

Value-based questions still provide insight to another person’s values, without needing to ask an awkward question like, “What are your values?”

Here is 10 minutes of audio demonstrating value-based questions.

Be Flexible With Others (and Yourself)

I know people who are very intentional when getting to know someone about sitting down to have a formal conversation utilizing the above process. That can work very well, just be cautious about not moving too quickly. The goal is to build a relationship, not to get all the way to value-based questions.

I also know people who go through this process over a series of conversations, perhaps even when walking to a meeting or on the way to lunch. If you use this approach, be sure to pick it up again later and keep the conversation moving forward over time.

Either way, be flexible with what works for the other party.

Occasionally when I teach this process to someone, they get hung up on a single question they don’t like. The questions above are just examples. You’re not supposed to ask them all and, if one doesn’t feel comfortable, skip it and find one that works for you. The point is to discover more about the person and build the relationship, not to get fixated on any single question.

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