Anyone who saw the news story about the Anthem data breach likely had the same reaction.

“Sigh, of course that happened.”

Who today is surprised at a massive data leak? Maybe the Target credit card debacle gave you pause. Or the Home Depot one. But now? Security breakdowns are so common we can only shake our heads — even though hackers stole personal information from up to 80 million Anthem members (including yours truly).

Excuse me while I seek credit monitoring services forever.

The predictable is painful. That goes for data breaches and how we interact with one another. You know what happens at a happy hour when you talk and talk?

The other people stand around and think “Sigh, of course that happened.” They become bored while you dominate the conversation.

That’s why, in the first five minutes of any conversation, the smartest networkers do what no one expects: they only ask questions.

Yep, the best small talkers play the role of reporter and ignore their own back-stories. How? They use the six most powerful words in networking. I include two of those “powerful” words in bold down below.

Smart networker: “Where do you work?”

Person: “I’m a sales rep for iHeartRadio.”

Smart networker: “Oh, cool. What’s it like to work there?”

Person: “It’s a pretty cool place. We often get tickets to free concerts and access to new music.”

Smart networker: “That’s pretty sweet. What shows have you seen recently?”

Person: “Well, let’s see. Back in December I saw…”

You ask a question. And then another. And then another. You’ll get to your own life soon enough. Stay in the moment.

Watch what happens as the conversation ensues.

Smart networker: “Wow, you get to see all kinds of cool concerts. Do you have to work at the shows too?”

Person: “Yea, at the show in December, I had to work the merchandise table because the company who usually handles that service dropped the ball at the last minute, and now we’re looking for another partner.”

Smart networker: “Oh, interesting. You know I work for a staffing agency and we provide employees for short-term gigs like that.”

Person: “Oh, really? Email me tomorrow and I’ll put you in touch with our HR director.”

Do you see my point? If you remain laser focused on the other person, you will take the conversation WAY beyond “What’s your name?” and “Where do you work?” Now you’re in the “opportunity realm” where a meaningful conversation can lead somewhere substantial.

OK. Time’s up! We reached five minutes into a networking conversation.

Now what?

If you want talk further, you have two options:

  1. Wait for the person to say “OK, enough about me. Tell me about you.” That’s always best. You spent ample time in question mode, and now it’s your turn to dish out some answers.
  2. The person might NEVER say, “Tell me about you.” We’ve all met that guy or girl. Clueless to the world. When the person gives you a break in the conversation, interject with your own info: “That’s a cool story. It reminds me of a situation at my job…”

Here’s the bottom line:

Whether you have the chance to tell your life’s story or not, you already got what you came for, so to speak. You (nicely) interrogated someone else, gained knowledge you didn’t have and perhaps found a way to network further.

All from the first five minutes. All because you asked questions.

(This content was originally posted at News to Live By.)

About Danny Rubin

Danny Rubin is a media strategist and the managing editor of News To Live By™, a blog for Millennials that highlights the career advice and leadership lessons "hidden" in the day's top stories. A former TV reporter, he's always looking for ways to apply the news to our own lives. Follow him at @NewsToLiveBy.



PreviousWhich Came First? The Chicken or the Egg... Data Science Can Help NextCreative Solutions to Information Access from Chicago's Chief Librarian

Get Briefed Every Day!

Subscribe to my daily newsletter featuring current events and the top stories in technology, media, and marketing.