Among the various social tendencies that have arisen as a result of modernization is a desire for privacy. Among friends and family, most people loosen up, but among those perceived as strangers, many are a bit hesitant to divulge information that is even the least bit innocuous.
Of course, if you happen to merely be trying to network, interact with, or develop a relationship with new people, being able to find common ground is critical.
If you’re curious about what someone did last night, make sure to first establish a relaxed and friendly dialog atmosphere. Smile, talk about yourself, find some common ground and then just honestly ask what the other person did the night before.
No one likes to be around negative, intimidating, or suspicious people, and there are a variety of ways that you can use your physical body language to help put people at ease and ask personal questions.
First, you should smile. Smiling is a simple way to imply that you are a happy, well-intended, and easy-going person with whom someone can have an innocent conversation.
Second, be nice. Having a nice tone of voice, in addition to smiling, conveys a sense of warmth and friendship. Starting a conversation with a genuine “How are you?” is a good way to convey warmth.
You can also try touching someone gently in neutral body parts, such as the elbows, shoulder, or hands, as a means of suggesting friendly intentions, though sometimes people may find this undesirable given cultural or personal preferences.
Laughter is another means of relaying to someone that you are a well-intended person; you can try making a joke, but if you’re not a natural comedian then laughing, in general, is a good way to appear approachable.
As a more subtle tactic, you can try the process of mirroring, where you exhibit the same body language as the person with whom you are talking.
This helps to convey that you are non-threatening and have similar intentions, which helps others to feel that they are well-received and respected.
Make yourself non-threatening
Unfortunately, in this day and age, many are more than willing to violate your privacy and use personal information against you.
Given that the digital era has made random encounters, acquaintances, and conversations much less common than before, many are very surprised, if not startled, when someone approaches them and immediately probes into their personal life.
To make a question such as “What did you do last night?” seem much less intrusive, it’s best if you acknowledge that you are not a threat to their privacy and are simply trying to get to know them.
If you meet someone, a good starting point is to introduce yourself. If the setting where you are happening to converse is a work setting or even something less formal, beginning to discuss each other’s background, such as profession and similar contacts, creates a basis of familiarity.
An example introduction could be:
“Hi, my name is ________, I’ve been with this company for ________ years. It’s a great company, isn’t it?”
If you are in an environment where there is a theme to the meeting, whether it is for a charitable function, a reunion, or even a party to watch an athletic event, talking about the event and finding a mutual interest helps to put others at ease.
There’s no faster way to generate a new friend than when you say “this team is great!”
Divulge your own personal information
One way to tell that someone is trying to probe your personal life at your own expense is when they barrage you with a string of personal questions.
To counter this perception, be the first to talk about your personal life. You could talk about family, pets, your living situation, or even what you did the previous night. Sharing your personal information helps to create an environment that suggests equality in treatment.
When someone feels like they aren’t being exploited and that they will be treated equally, then they are more willing to open up. If you share information about yourself that is generally considered to be private, then those with whom you will interact will have more of an incentive to share about themselves, simply because they are merely returning the favor that you initiated.
Sharing something about your life such as “Geez, with work, kids and everything else going on, I don’t know how I’m going to do it!” helps to suggest the dilemmas you face, too.
Of course, some may still feel uncomfortable sharing what they did the previous evening. In such cases, further tactics are necessary.
Create a common ground
It’s a pretty consistent foundation for forming friendships that you should share a common interest.
As noted above, this may come about more easily if you happen to be in an environment where there is a shared reason for being there, such as a professional meeting, or if there is a shared theme to the event.
In other instances, you could create a common ground if you both have a similar contact, especially if both of you consider this person to be a friend; since most people trust their friends, it’s not surprising that they would then feel comfortable around you and welcome whatever questions you ask. If you are looking to find a common contact, just ask:
“Hey, do you know ___________? He/She is the best, right?”
If you don’t have any similar contacts, complimenting someone’s appearance and asking where they acquired a garment or accessory shows interest in them as a person and creates a much less threatening environment.
For example, you could say:
“Hey, that’s a nice shirt, where did you get it?”
Further, when people have someone show interest in them as a person, they tend to feel respected for being a person and not the potential victim of someone else’s ill intentions.
Of course, some people may find superficial banter to be disinteresting or a veiled attempt for other motives. When this arises, it helps to be even more open about why you are inquiring.
Give a good reason for why you’d want to know
Generally speaking, people open up to other people when they feel comfortable around them.
An easy way to make someone else comfortable is, to be honest.
If you are sincerely trying to get to know someone and simply want to know what they did last night as a basis of furthering the conversation, then just acknowledge that you are asking them because you want to get to know them!
If you’ve already shared what you did the previous evening, then you could say something such as:
“Sorry to probe, but I’d like to get to know more about you and I can’t think of anything else interesting to ask.”
If you’re honest, and especially if you are nonchalant and humorous in your approach, you will help to dispel the perception that you are trying to gather someone’s personal information against their will.
Many people will also recognize that, when meeting new people, it’s often very difficult to start a conversation, particularly if you are shy or introverted.
You can alert people to your hesitancy by saying:
“I don’t want to probe into your personal life, I’m just not good at asking questions when I meet people.”
Asking someone what they did the previous evening is a pretty expected conversation theme if someone already knows someone, as that is the basis of furthering someone’s relationship, so it’s not such a farfetched conversation topic.
As long as you show genuine interest, and especially if you include some humor and self-deprecation, you will most likely help to put your acquaintance at ease and get to know them better.
Reassure you are invested in the relationship
People generally want to know that they are respected and desired, and nothing helps to convey such sentiments than reassuring someone that you are interested in them.
Simply suggesting that you’d like to get to know more about them so that you can meet up again or participate in a shared interest conveys that your desire to know about someone is neither invasive nor fleeting.
“Hey, I’d like to get together again if you’re interested.”
If you have been conversing up until this point and haven’t asked someone what they did the previous night, you can ask them if they’d like to get together at another point to continue the conversation.
If you’ve already asked them this question, you can simply remark that you’d just like to get to know them more as you find them interesting. If you relay a personal interest in another person, it makes it much easier to ask personal questions.
At the end of the day, getting to know someone is all about having good intentions. A question such as “What did you do last night?” is simply a means of getting to know another person. If you have good intentions and genuinely want to get to know another person, your body language, tone, and speaking style will generally convey this desire.
Even if you are a bit awkward or tend to come across as more direct or potentially intrusive, establishing that you are genuinely interested in this information to get to know someone will more likely than not ease the way to furthering the conversation.
If you ask “What did you do last night?” and the other person seems uncomfortable, you can respond by saying:
“I’m just curious because you seem like an interesting person.”
The conversation is an art and not a science. It helps to be able to read people and identify when they are comfortable and when they aren’t.
Keep the conversation going
The above tactics are simple suggestions to help you to get to know someone better. As long as you respect the other person’s privacy, ease into the conversation slowly and have a genuine interest in getting to know the person, sharing personal information is the next step to getting to know someone better.
All relationships, excluding immediate family, start as acquaintances so it’s natural that many wish to have a more familiar approach to getting to know someone. Once you get to know someone, who knows where the conversation will go? So, now that you know how to get to know someone, it’s time to start talking and finding out what everyone did last night!
Sophie Hammond is a journalist, psychologist, and freelance speechwriter for people in politics and business. She lives on the edge of the Rocky Mountains with her dog and a lifetime supply of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop.