This post is inspired by the re-authoring learning and practicing I’m learning with Dr ChenĂ© Swart, conversations with my dear friend and business partner Adam Barnett, many conversations about hosting with my life partner Anne Stieger, many first meeting conversations that could have been more connective, and a conversation over dinner with two new friends, Steven and Caroline.

Recently I’ve made a conscious effort to stop asking the question “where are you from or where do you come from” when I’m getting to know someone. It’s a natural question to ask in rural North America because most of the population’s ancestors are from somewhere not on this continent. I assume most people ask this question because we are curious, we hear this question all the time, where we are from has meaning, we assume this question will be an easy starting place, we’re hoping to find common ground etc. Unfortunately, I’m finding more and more, it is not the best conversation opening question because it invites difference and opens the conversation to divisiveness, especially in a place like North America, where many of our ancestors were separated from our lands to come here or we’ve moved for economic reasons and or are away from our families. Either way, this seemingly benign question is complicated in our current cultural context.

In the the best case scenario, when asking the question, where are you from, this question yields some sort of common ground: people are from that same place, people know someone from that same place, have family from that place etc. In the less ideal scenario, it highlights a difference such as: I’m not from that place, I don’t identify with that place (judgement), I don’t like that place (judgement), I don’t like people from that place etc. In either circumstance, it’s an opening question that doesn’t usually go very far or deep and often leads to divisiveness rather than connection.

Here are some questions I’ve “trying on,” that seem to feel good, and yield to the fun and connective conversations:

  • What brings you here?
  • What’s inspiring you these days?
  • What’s been the highlight of your day/week?
  • What’s something you’ve always dreamt of doing?

Then I follow-up with questions I don’t know the answer or I share how what they shared moved me or struck me in some way or transported me to a moment in my past. For example, I might say:

  • Tell me more…say more
  • Who would not be surprised you are sharing this? (usually only if it’s not the first time I’m meeting them)
  • Thank for sharing this, I’m craving more of the moments you shared…
  • I’m touched by what you said because…
  • Thank you, this is remind me…
  • I’m so curious to get to know you more…

What are some questions you’re “trying on” to make everyday conversations better? I invite you to leave a comment below.