A “Super” Question To Ask Strangers

Superhero kid against dramatic blue sky background

Last week I wrote a post that challenged you to come up with a better answer to the question, “What do you do?” One that doesn’t define you by your work, but more by who you really are.

I am lovin’ the responses to the post, too!

I’ve been thinking about that post all week and even had a chance to practice my response a few times. I’m sure the three people who asked me that question thought I was a psycho because I got so excited and blurted out “I’M AN EXPLORER!”…maybe a little too exuberantly. In fact I know I did because at least two of them immediately took an involuntary half-step back from me.

Once they realized I wasn’t going to try to sell them Amway products, my unique response led to some great conversations.

I also realized that it’s hard to ask that question to a stranger in a way that solicits a personal answer without a lengthy explanation or sounding like you are probing into someone’s deeply private space. No matter how I tried to phrase it, it always came out sounding like “So, what do yo do…outside of work I mean…in the privacy of your own home…when nobody is looking?” When they’re already questioning your mental state, asking a question like this pretty much cements their opinion of you.

So what can you ask instead that’s better/different/more interesting than the standard “What do you do?

Add one word: “What do you do best?”

They will no doubt look at you with a completely blank stare, like you just spoke to them in foreign language. And for good reason — nobody has ever asked them this question before. It takes a minute to sink in. To help it along, you can follow up with something like, “Everybody always asks you what you do for a living. I’m more interested in what you do best…what is your greatest skill, talent, or ability?

Or you can use my favorite way to ask the question: “What’s your superpower?

Give them a little space to respond and I bet you a hundred dollars you will hear the most amazing things come out of their mouths.

“I can prepare spreadsheets like nobody’s business.”

“I can make just about anybody smile.”

“I can sell ice to an Eskimo.”

Be prepared to answer the question yourself, too, because they’ll probably ask it back to you in self-defense. For some reason it makes us uncomfortable to tell people what we believe is our greatest skill, talent, or ability. We think it’s boastful, and it might be IF we shared it without being asked. But when someone asks, you can lay it on them guilt-free.

If you ask me what my superpower is, I’ll say “I make things as simple as possible.

By the way, this question should be standard in every hiring process. I’ll make the argument that if someone can’t — or won’t — answer this question, you might want to place their resume at the bottom of the pile. In my experience, “A players” are always willing and able to answer this question.

So, A-player, what’s YOUR superpower?


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