A few years ago, a study was released that most people remember, erroneously, as “The 36 Questions That Can Make Anyone Fall in Love.” Researchers did not make that claim, but they did learn that when two strangers asked each other the 36 questions, they could quickly build intimacy.
Researchers concluded: “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self disclosure.”
At work, the amount of self-disclosure people are willing to offer has to do with the corporate culture. Some people disclose waaaay more than you want or need to know. Others seem to have dropped in from their real job as a spy. Some organizational cultures stand by the mantra that people should keep their personal lives out of the workplace; others recognize that research shows that strong emotional connections improve performance. In fact, a study of 184 employees of a long-term care facility demonstrated that having a caring work culture contributed to higher satisfaction and teamwork, and better patient outcomes. In the world of business, that translates to better customer care.
These days, it can be tricky to connect with people without being too polarizing. Many of us start conversations with a request for a POV, “What do you think about…?” instead of asking more about who the other person is, about their life and interests. This line of questioning serves as a gauntlet for the other person to run, more a dare than an invitation to share. But it’s also hard to know which personal questions are okay to ask without going too far into their issues or business.
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But if you’re striving for a culture of inclusivity, inclusion is about being curious about other people’s lives and experiences—without prejudging them. And sincerely asking someone about who they are has been proven to build bonds. So of the famous 36 love questions, there are plenty that are safe for work, whether you’re making watercooler small talk, out for lunch, or in need of an icebreaker before a meeting begins:
- If a crystal ball could tell you anything about yourself, your life, your future, what would you want to know?
- What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
- If you had to move, where would you move to and what would you miss most about your current city?
- What is your favorite holiday? Why?
- What was the best gift you ever got?
- What foreign city would you most like to visit?
- Describe your pet.
- If you could invent a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?
- Share with your partner [aka coworker] one thing you already like about them.
That’s a handful, but here are a few additional questions researchers have found to help build rapport especially when you’re trying to encourage people to share their unique point of view:
- What did you think about when you were five?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about your job?
Of course, keep it constructive. The answer to these questions may trigger hot button issues, but more likely they’ll uncover surprising and memorable anecdotes and will help you get to know your coworkers a little more as a human being, making working together as a team, and with customers, easier and more fun.
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