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Ask more profitable and productive questions

This morning I was checking my iGoogle page and found an excellent article in the CNN news gadget: “The question on everyone’s mind,” by By LZ Granderson.

In short, he says the universal question upon meeting someone new — “What do you do for a living?” — has changed from a simple way of finding something interesting to talk about to finding a way of measuring his or her financial and social worth.

He’s right. Worse than than what he describes is the logical extension that most people prefer to talk to people who they believe will be of some practical use, rather than someone who may merely be interesting.

Despite all the “social networking;” despite all the constant contact with their “peeps” on smart phones and the web, so many folks are simply trolling for great contacts. Contacts with successful people who can help them be successful. Rather than relationships that can make them better people.

As a society, we’ve forgotten about being truly social. Everything is about what is of profit financially or in terms of status. We no longer connect with people; we look for “people-objects” to use to get ahead.

You may ask what this has to do with human performance or productivity. I will answer: a great deal.

If you are a manager, how do you build a great team from a pool of employees who are competing with, trying to outmaneuver or trying to use one another? How do you get cooperation for the best interests of the organization, when there is no longer any care about or loyalty to the organization? When the only thing your employees care about is what the organization and others can do to profit them right now.

If you are a careerist or an entrepreneur, you likely have spent some time developing your “elevator speech.” You want to present yourself in the best possible light in the fewest words. You hope to be prepared if you are lucky enough to run into a possible employer, mentor, client or customer. How does that work if you are being measured by what you are already worth financially and socially? How can you present yourself effectively to get ahead if no one is interested in you unless you’ve already succeeded?

No matter how productive you are, no matter how high your performance level, no matter what that indicates for your future potential, how can that help you succeed if you live in a society where you have to show current success, status and profit up front? Before anyone who might help you is interested in talking to you? Because they want to believe you can help them first.

This disregard for anything but profit and status is also undermining good “social marketing.”

We’ve been given a great opportunity as careerists, entrepreneurs or business organizations to gently capitalize on the old adage that “people prefer to do business with other people they know and like.” Sites like Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn provide access to an audience that might come to know and like us. And therefore hire us or do business with us.

Yet so many users of those sites are forgetting the process is a social one. One that takes a while. One that means actually being friendly and interesting. Actually interacting with others in ways that help, regardless of any particular business interest. A process of becoming known and liked as an individual — or, in the case of an organization, a group of individuals — with a name(s), face(s) and real life(lives). A process of sharing. Not a process of using.

Perhaps we need to ask better questions than “what do you do for a living?” It’s not wrong to want to make profitable contacts, but it is important to remember that everyone wants to be valued for himself or herself. We all want to be individually measured as worthy of regard and respect by our abilities, virtues, strengths, fine characters.

Maybe we should ask questions like: “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done today?” or “What would you do if you could do any work you wanted to do?” or “When you meet someone new, what do you think is the most important thing to know about them?” Maybe we should ask questions that show who the person is rather than how high his status or success. Maybe we should care about the answer. Because it might be the most profitable, productive thing we can do.

And don’t forget to read Granderson’s article.