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Networking tip 18: Ask questions

Remember that hoary old cliché that there are no stupid questions?  In fact, the question that feels most cringingly stupid at the time probably, in retrospect, convincingly demonstrated both your humility and—ironically—your confidence. And, of course, it showed that you were interested—your main conversational objective!

When I started out as an outsourcing lawyer, people often asked me, “What exactly is that?” While the answer was of course quite obvious to me, I never thought anyone inferior for not knowing about it, and I always answered the question fully and enthusiastically. As far as I was concerned, people who never asked, but whose ignorance later became clear, made a far worse impression; I could only assume that they never inquired because of either indifference or insecurity. Think about it: When has someone ever asked you a question about yourself or your work, hobbies, or interests that you weren’t glad to answer?

When you’re in a group of people and some question begins to tantalize you, it’s a better-than-even bet that others in the group are wondering the same thing. The person with the confidence to ask the question actually reaps the reward, because the speaker focuses on him (or her) while providing his answer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finally ventured a question, only to have a colleague admit later that he wished he’d been the one to ask. 

The best questions for fueling conversations are open-ended. Listen for clues about when and what to ask, and try to ask about things that might allow a speaker to address his special interests or particular passions—the things that induce the most positive emotion. Even when a line of conversation appears to have shut down, be alert to opportunities to reignite it with a question.


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