How often have you started a work conversation with, “How are you?” For many of us, this question is our go-to opener, likely to elicit the same responses: “Good,” “Hanging in there,” or maybe a comment about looking forward to the weekend.
But when we ask more thoughtful questions, we might get more interesting answers. By asking a co-worker a deeper question, we open the door to something greater than surface-level small talk. And the results can be powerful.
When we take small steps to strengthen our connections with co-workers, we create a sense of social support that has a range of benefits. When we have a support system we can rely on, we’re more likely to choose healthy behaviors, better able to manage stress, more resilient, and more motivated to reach our goals.
Building these connections is especially important when we’re starting a new job or welcoming a new team member to our organization. The questions we ask can make a difference! Here are 10 questions you can ask a co-worker instead of “How are you?” to build deeper connections, suggested by Thrive community members.
1. What are you passionate about outside of work?
“I’ve found that taking a genuine interest in people’s passions helps spark authentic conversation, which is why I like to ask what they’re passionate about outside of work. As you can imagine, people learn all types of things about their colleagues they never knew. People share about an instrument they play, a side hustle they keep up, or a special talent they have. It’s beautiful how organic connections can be created by asking something that isn’t the typical elevator pitch.”
— MaryBeth Hyland, culture consultant, Baltimore, MD
2. What was the best thing that happened this week?
“During our weekly meeting with all of the school’s teachers, it has become a part of our reflective practice to ask, ‘What was the best thing that happened in your classroom this week?’ It allows us to think about what we did in our classroom, whether it was a big win or a small gesture that made it a great week. More often than not, it generates additional conversation, and provides such warmth and genuine connection between our fellow teachers.”
— Christine Denker, English teacher and writer, Omaha, NE
3. How can I support you?
“This is my favorite question to ask in both my personal and professional relationships. Support can mean different things to different people. For some, support might mean not inviting them out for a happy hour while they commit to a no-alcohol month. Or it might mean testing a new product or service that they want to sell. It could even mean being a listening ear throughout a tough health situation. Everyone has a goal or need that comes to mind right away, and it’s helpful for me to know and understand how I can show up for others.”
— Alyssa Towns, business operations specialist, Denver, CO
4. What’s your favorite hobby?
“I worked in an organizational sector, and we needed information to computerize some purchasing routines, but my manager was not being receptive about the task. Someone had told me that my manager liked to visit caves, and coincidentally, the Sunday newspaper just published an article on cave visits. I read the article, cut it out, and placed it on his desk. He hadn’t read the article, and was overjoyed to see it. Simply acknowledging his hobby ended up creating the empathy I needed to do my job!”
— Elazier Barbosa, business consultant, Sao Paulo, Brazil
5. What is most important to you right now?
“I love asking this question because it builds an instant connection between myself and the person I am talking to, and it makes people think intuitively. Sometimes we are all so busy doing that we don’t take the time to consider why we are doing what we’re doing. Re-assessing what is meaningful now refocuses our energy and attention on being in the moment. This question is a quick and memorable energy refresher and a thought-provoking way to foster a trusting and more intimate interaction with the people in your life.”
— Randi Levin, transitional life strategist, NJ/NYC
6. What do you want to be celebrating in five years?
“I like to ask people, ‘Imagine we are celebrating your accomplishment or goal five years from now. What would be celebrating?’ We all have goals and aspirations. This question lets me know what they are ultimately working toward. It also allows me to see if I can help connect them with a tool, resource, or person who can help them achieve their goals.”
— Dan Chan, virtual magician, San Francisco, CA
7. What’s your family like?
“I believe that talking about family is one of the most effective ways to break the ice. I personally have an interesting relationship with my family where we don’t necessarily get along all the time and it is okay! I am certain most people can relate, but they don’t talk about it. Bringing this up in a natural way and even making jokes makes others comfortable to speak up instead of being ashamed or shy about it. I love my family, but we are all human, so why not talk about it and normalize the ups and downs?”
— Martin Sevillano, architectural designer, Los Angeles, CA
8. What movies or books have you been loving?
“I’m a freelance producer whose jobs and contracts are constantly changing; I am meeting new people all the time, and the desire to connect with those at work is a continual process. If I don’t know a co-worker especially well, I may try to keep it topical and on a subject that most people will have an opinion on, like what good movies they’ve seen lately, or a book they are currently reading. That way, I learn more about their interests, and can hopefully find a common talking point to focus on.”
— Stephanie Purcell, freelance producer, New York, NY
9. What are you learning right now?
“This question is one that builds curiosity and upgrades your skillset. I find that it allows you to create and maintain relationships, and helps you share an interest with a co-worker.”
— Loreta Pivoriunaite, performance strategist, Lithuania
10. What gifts or opportunities have you received recently?
“Instead of a generic, ‘What’s been going on?’ or ‘What have you been up to?’ I like to ask a more perspective-based question. It usually catches the person off-guard, causing a moment of pause. The response tends to be more thoughtful and sometimes even leads to a complete reframe of something perceived as negative going on in their life.”
— Julie Bronsteater, personal and executive coach, Chicago, IL
For more on how to build meaningful connections with your team, watch a clip from our newest course, Thriving Onboarding, below.