3 min read

Social interactions are so fascinating to me. There is so much routine and bullshit and unnecessary intro cadence we’ve come to expect and operate on, but it’s the standard way of starting and forming any relationship.

“Hi, I’m Jay.”

“Hi, I’m [name].”


“How do you know [mutual friend]?”

“[anecdote I’m only vaguely interested in hearing]”

“Oh, ok, that’s [slightly positive adjective, probably ‘cool’].

…slightly uncomfortable silence…

“So what do you do?”

Imagine all the time you’ve wasted having that above conversation. Maybe that’s harsh; after all, I do really genuinely love meeting new people.

But sometimes, I really like to mix it up.

When I finished my sophomore year of college, I was invited to interview for a internship with a company I can only refer to as a cult: Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. It was the most insane, eye-opening, mindfuck of an interview process I’ve ever been involved in. Along with getting a free Myers-Briggs assessment, I actually picked up quite a few tactics on understanding peoples’ personalities, what makes them tick, etc.

The best part of the whole process was the first part of the application process. I was directed to a web page, instructed to upload a bunch of educational and work experience information, and then there was the essay portion. The essay was one question:

What are you like?

Woah! What do you mean, what am I like? I don’t know man, what are you like? What kind of question is that?

It’s a beautiful and disarming question. Once you get over the immediate discomfort of being faced with being asked “what are you like” it actually becomes pretty liberating.

So many people identify themselves with their work. With what they do.

“I’m a [position] at [company].”

“I [verb] for [organization].”

As my friend Chris McAlister would tell you, you are not your work. And once you separate who you are from what you do, you actually separate your emotions, feeling of self-worth, etc. from the day-in day-out of your job.

But I’m digressing.

When someone tells you what they are like, they will give you the values, virtues, interests, and actions that are important to them. The things they WANT to define them. The best version of themselves that they hope the world sees in them, but don’t always feel comfortably saying out loud. They are vulnerable.

I had a conversation this week with Doug from Serif Creative and he made a point that sheds some more light on why asking someone “what are you like?” can help form relationships faster.

Doug said that there are five steps or stages to forming a relationship:

1. Ritual (like a handshake)
2. Sharing of facts (I’m from Columbus)
3. Sharing of opinions (I’m going to vote for this political candidate)
4. Sharing of feelings (I’m really into you because you’re funny)
5. Sharing of truths (a deeper part of #4, sharing vulnerability and your full truth)

I love that. It’s not a complete revelation, but explicitly laying out something you’ve always sort of experienced implicitly is super satisfying.

Now back to my point, assuming you’ve accomplished #1, when you ask someone “What do you do?” you’re going straight to step #2. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s still pretty shallow and you’re not forming a deeper relationship just yet.

When you ask someone “What are you like?” you’re really opening the door and soliciting information that can fall anywhere between steps 3-5. Depending on how open that person is, you could form a pretty meaningful relationship REAL QUICK.

So, I encourage you to give this a shot. It’s always a trip to see the look on someone’s face when you ask them. You can watch in real time as they are virtually slapped out of the intro cadence. A lot of times, they will default to “I do [job] for [company]” but then you are obligated to say “no no no, I didn’t ask what you do. I asked what are you like?

Happy friend-making, friends.