“So, what do you do?” This is often the standard question we are confronted by or that we fall back upon when meeting someone new. There is nothing wrong with being curious about this, especially if you have reason to be genuinely intrigued, yet the reality is we tend to resort to this question through a poor approach to our conversational style. Lack of courage, narcissism, closed mindedness or stereotyping may, among others, be facets of this poor approach. I’ll consider those in another post, but for now I just want to ask each of us to be diligent in our disposition towards pigeon-holing people and ignoring their passions.
At the conversation experiences I produce, I resist the ritual of introductions. Too frequently this is nothing more than an attempt on the part of those asking for introductions to reduce the discomfort of not knowing: not knowing the other people, not knowing the subject matter, not knowing what they can expect from the conversation. The problem with introductions is that they suffocate serendipity and the organic evolution of an untethered conversation.
It is ironic that asking someone, “What do you do?” is not only limiting, but ties the conversation swiftly to that most claustrophobic of environments: the workplace. As I have noted elsewhere (such as this post regarding the degree to which executives sincerely value creativity), current management practice perpetuates an outdated form of mechanistic control, whereby managers are terrified of nonconformist thinking and behavior.
When you think about your passions, hobbies or aspirations, are they easily defined in relation to your job title? Most people find that the answer to the question, “What do you do?” has little bearing on those aspects of our lives that give them real meaning to us. At a conference last week, after my presentation, I asked attendees to wear name badges that did not declare their titles, but instead stated their passion, as a way to kick start conversations among new acquaintances about those features of our lives that truly matter to us. The next time that you engage in a conversation, move beyond the need to pigeon hole someone and away from the generic topic, and instead focus on those aspects of ourselves that are important and meaningful.