By Tom Searcy
Open-ended questions are the icebreakers that lead to more engaging business discussions with customers, vendors, partners and prospectsCredit: British Antarctic SocietyEvery matchmaker in the business will tell you that the first step to developing a relationship with someone is to get them talking. Most of us meet new people as a part of our jobs — prospects, coworkers, customers, vendors or partners. And it is part of our jobs in these moments to connect and interact with these people.Breaking the ice with someone should accomplish several things:– Start a conversation on a positive note– Move the first interaction past data exchange to connection– Make a memory-link of the person, personality and nameHere are 21 questions you can use to break the ice:1. What is the best part of your job?2. What is the best part of working at your company?3. When did you know that you wanted to work in your field?4. Who was the most influential person in your career choice?5. What was your biggest accomplishment in the last year?6. Who do you look forward to seeing when you come to work?7. What are you most excited about that you see coming up in the next six months?8. What was the most impressive thing you saw happen in your industry in the last year?9. Which company in your industry is the pacesetter and what are they doing?10. What’s the smartest thing your company’s done in the last year to deal with the economy?11. What’s the best technique you have been using to better manage your time?12. Which of your company’s initiatives for next year has you the most excited?13. If you had only one accomplishment on which to base your annual review, what would it be?14. What’s the secret sauce for managing people to their highest success?15. Who is the best leader you know that you personally try to emulate?16. Where do you think the big innovation in your industry will come from in the next year or two?17. What was your best decision in the last year?18. Who are the best thinkers in your field that you follow?19. What sea change do you see coming in the next year or two in the business?20. What technology has made the biggest difference in your personal work in the last year?21. What is the biggest thing you will stop doing next year?You will notice that the questions are geared to make the other person stop, consider, compare and then make a choice. This is all intentional. You are engaging them at a level deeper than the transactional conversation. That’s the ice you are breaking — the ice that keeps you from truly engaging.Bonus question No. 1: After the person answers the opening question, ask “Why?”Bonus question No. 2: How can I help with what you are trying to get done?