If you really want to impress, ask good questions. My mother gave me that sage advice years ago. It has only grown truer with time.

Be curious. Ask people about themselves, about their past, their life, their work, their opinion on issue X. Seek out the experts. Or ask the person next to you. Then follow through: listen.

If you’re sincere, if you’re genuinely interested, people will feel it. They’ll be flattered. They’ll appreciate you for it. They’ll invite you back for more. Who wouldn’t? We all love to talk about ourselves. I do.

Such simple advice, so seemingly obvious, and yet so rarely heeded. Maybe because it demands such self-restraint. We all love to talk about ourselves. I do.

While serving in another country some years ago, I remember having to remind a bright young colleague what our real job was. It was not to show off to our hosts everything we knew about their country (which was a lot), but rather to find out from them what they thought. After all, if they didn’t know more than we did on the subject, then we were at the wrong lunch.

In other words, our job was not to know, but to find out.

How do you ensure that what you already know facilitates further discovery instead of blocking the way? With a combination of self-restraint and engagement. By asking good questions. Real questions. Carefully crafted, well-informed, targeted questions. And by listening carefully to the responses.

A real conversation is a delicate dance. A virtuous circle.

The kinds of questions you’re able to craft will reflect what you know in any case, demonstrating your worthiness as a conversational partner to those who know more. Good questions elicit the kinds of responses that push out the frontier of what you know or shed a new light on what you thought you did.

They facilitate your participation in the delicate dance, expand the virtuous circle, and deepen your own understanding.  What’s not to like?

Want to show your stuff? Ask good questions.