The 8 questions you should be asking new contacts

Have you ever been asked an awkward question? You know...the kind of question that makes you cringe slightly or blush in embarrassment.

It’s like when a well-meaning (albeit nosy) bystander asks a non-pregnant lady “when are you due?”

And everyone in earshot is like...


While inappropriately-timed provocative questions (like the one above) can take us out of our comfort zones, plutonic questions barely scratch the surface on getting to know someone.

This week, we’re going to learn 8 probing questions, that when aptly-timed, have been shown to build stronger relationships.

(And these aren’t just suggestions we scrounged up on the street — these are suggestions from Harvard scientists who know a thing or two about building relationships.)

Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, get better answers.
— Tony Robbins


You know the drill - “What do you do for work?” or “Where are you from?” or “How do you know so-and-so?”

These are the questions you’ve heard (and probably asked) thousands of times.

And while these questions aren’t “bad” per se, when it comes to building stronger networks, they don’t really move us along the relationship-building path. 

These pleasantry-type questions only get us facts—names, dates, locations, trivial details. But these questions don’t give us the intangibles—the characteristics that make a new contact uniquely human—their passions, interests, fears, concerns. 

Harvard Business Review suggests 8 questions that provoke meaningful conversation (and thereby meaningful relationships).

  1. What excites you right now? This seemingly innocuous question packs a big punch because it leaves the options wide-open for a unique and unexpected answer. It goes beyond “What are you into?” and begins to reveal what makes someone tick.

  2. What are you looking forward to? Again, the open-ended nature of this question gives your new friend an opportunity to share something personal, work-related, or completely random that’s capturing their attention as they anticipate its arrival.

  3. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this year? As an alternative to “How’s your week been?” this question causes someone to pause and reflect on their past few months to really analyze what has gone well. This self-reflection can really shine a light into a person’s life—giving you space to get to know them on a more personal level.

  4. Where did you grow up? Better than “Where are you from?” this question gives someone an opportunity to share about a memorable place from their childhood either by giving a simple location or by expanding on the details of their childhood. 

  5. What do you do for fun? Or you can ask, "If you had a day off and a $100, what would you do?" As a networker, our eyes can all too often be focused on someone's work-life habits, when in reality, a person’s hobbies or interests can be meaningful connection points for a friendship to blossom from.

  6. Who’s your favorite superhero or fictional character? Whether Batman or Huckleberry Finn, a lot can be learned from discovering what fictional characters capture a new contact’s attention. 

  7. Is there a charitable cause you support? Or you can also ask, “If you had to pick one charitable cause to give your time and money to, which one would it be?” While this question may seem to go too deep upon a first meeting, the reality is that people want to share about themselves in a safe place, but often aren’t given the opportunity — especially in big networking events.  When others are given a safe place to share information about a cause that excites them (or motivates them), this is the perfect launching point from which to start a relationship. 

  8. What’s the most important thing I should know about you? Again, this question really gives someone a wide-berth to answer in a way they are comfortable with. This is also the perfect question to ask towards the end of a conversation and one you should definitely include in your Contact Mapping Note (or even Highlight Section) about the new contact.

While some of these questions may seem too provocative for a first meeting, studies have found that once you ask a provocative question, others are more likely to follow suit. 

To that end, be prepared to answer any one of the questions you pose. Your openness and vulnerability are more likely to be reciprocated if you’re willing to share.

Lastly, a great way to disarm any of these questions is to start it by simply adding “I’m curious…” to the beginning of your questioning. This simple addition turns the questioning from an interrogation into a conversation.

For more great questions to use when meeting a new friend, check out our list here.

As always, we are wishing you all the best as you continue to build thriving networks!


Have you updated your Contact Mapping App recently?

If not, go ahead and get that done ASAP, because there are some new updates to make your job even easier—including this new function that displays the next follow-up you've scheduled with someone at the top of their contact card...Check it out!