Take Control of the Conversation: Change the Question

You need to learn not to accept questions as worth answering.  Instead, answer what you want to be asked.

TK Coleman conveyed this idea in an episode of the podcast series Deschool Yourself.  I love it.  The way I summarized it sounds a little crude or narcissistic, but that’s not what TK meant.

The discussion was about conversational conventions that lead us to define ourselves and others by our station on some boring coerced conveyor belt.  Age, rank, grade, major, etc.  Even after compulsory schooling ends, it’s easy to slip into a work/identity trap.

I harp on finding ways to ask better questions of others – questions that get into story, not status.

But TK took it a step further.  When someone asks you, “How was work?”, or, “So where are you going to school?”, don’t do what a schooled mind is trained to do.  A schooled mind is trained to accept all questions as legitimate.  Answer them, or get downgraded.  But most questions aren’t valuable or interesting.  Don’t waste time on those that aren’t.

Instead, own the conversation.  Don’t let yourself slip back into the school/work/identity trap by lazily answering robotic status questions.  TK suggested something like, “Work is great, but that’s not as interesting to me right now as what I keep hearing about this movie I’m going to see.”

There are endless options to turn a conveyor belt conversation into something fun and productive.  Ask yourself, “What do I really want to talk about?  What would I like to know about this person, or want them to know about me that can’t be found on LinkedIn?”

It doesn’t mean there’s no place for small talk, or quick give-’em-what-they-want-so-you-can-move-ons.  And until you’ve extracted your identity from external signals, changing the conversation won’t matter anyway.

But if you’ve worked to define yourself by something better than a bullet-point, the next step is to not let others drag you back into the pigeonhole with common conversation.  Own it, and make it fun.

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