Two Questions that Reveal Aspirations
I first heard the expression, “A typical job interview is a conversation between two liars,” on a call to Buenos Aires in 2014.
It’s not just job interviews. People pretend they’re someone they aren’t.
Questions are windows.
5 types of questions:
- Hypothetical questions. “What kind of animal would you like to be?” “If our roles were reversed, what questions would you ask?”
- Experience questions. “What have you learned from failure?”
- Unexpected questions. “If you could have dinner with any person from history, who would it be?”
- Practical questions. “How would you begin a conversation with someone who needs to improve their performance?”
- Performance questions. “What process do you use for setting and achieving goals?”
Two questions that reveal aspirations:
“Excluding your parents, what three living people do you greatly admire?”
Create a window by asking, “Could you tell me two or three specific things you admire about those people?”
James da Silva notices that over 20% of us won’t answer or don’t have anyone we admire.
Why ask about admiration:
Admiration informs aspiration.
A kid today might aspire to be a TikTok star. The aspiration to become a TikTok star comes from admiring TikTok stars.
We desire to be like the people we admire.
In the 60’s people wore bell-bottoms and fringe because they admired anti-authoritarian hippies.
The car you drive, hobbies you enjoy, and clothes you wear are influenced by the people you admire.
Admiration forms values.
I respect people who work hard. Where does that come from? My dad was the hardest working man I have ever known. I admire him.
Did I value hard work before or after I admired dad? The people we admire show us what to want.
When people tell you who they admire, they declare their aspirational selves.
How might leaders explore what makes people tick?
I think the admiration question can be a minefield. No many people admire somebody who is considered negatively by others. Pretty much every rival has feet of clay or a dark secret. I grew up admiring Jonas Salk, then later found he had conducted human disease research in ways that would almost certainly have got him indicted at the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial for crimes against humanity had he been in a different place/time.
Thanks Mitch. I was thinking the same thing about the dark side of admiration. People disappoint. I admire my dad. He had faults like anyone else.
Perhaps there’s value in coming to grips with human frailty and still finding things to admire about people. (Obviously there is a line.)
Wonderful questions. But I waited in vain for you to answer your own question. Dan, what three persons do you admire?
Thanks Pete. My dad is at the top of the list. His work ethic, determination to work through problems and find solutions, resolve to overcome obstacles, and the way he treated mom all impact the way I live today.
I always admire things about my current coaching clients. They inspire me and they teach me. I wouldn’t work with anyone I didn’t have admiration for.
There are a few people who I admire because they demonstrate kindness/compassion. I’m always challenged when I see a leader with drive show up with compassion. The combined qualities of kindness/toughness are the epitome of virtue. Most of us tend toward one or the other. Kind people need to learn how to be tough. Tough people need to learn how to show kindness. The ability to demonstrate kindness and toughness at the same time is remarkable to me.
I didn’t want to start naming people because there are so many people I admire. This is an important part of my life.
How might leaders explore what makes people tick?
When I coached and managed people, I simply asked the question, “What motivates you?” Most people were very eager to respond.
I gained some interesting information and insights that I used to engage the person in the future.
Thanks Paul. The thing I take away from your comment is how it’s important to use what we learn about people when we engage with them. It helps them feel understood and respected.
I love those type of questions – great conversation starters. I am going to steal the the one about a famous dinner guest. Mine, by the way, would be Thomas Jefferson – for all sorts for reasons.
Thanks Travis. I’m not sure where I first saw the dinner guest question. It’s a good one. If you invited me to your dinner, I’d bring Benjamin Franklin.
I do ask that question during interview and I have always found it very telling. I go on to ask them about what traits make them admire that person. You find out a lot about people by asking. I have had people that need to think about the question and we come back to it but I have always received an answer.
Thanks Dawn. It’s affirming to see that you’re finding the aspiration questions useful. Personally, I think it’s fun to explore this topic. And you’re right, sometimes it’s useful to give people time to reflect.
Great questions!! Totally stealing–although I would ask for 3 people living or not. I admire more people who have passed than I do living. =\
When I am being interviewed, my last question is: “What do you appreciate most about your team?” It gives me insight on their leadership style as well as what they want from their team members.
Thanks Tracey. LOVE your last question!! Brilliant. It’s so easy for us to notice and talk about things we don’t like!
I’d want to see a job candidate light up when asked what they appreciate about your team!
“If our roles were reversed, what questions would you ask?” <— I like this one, I usually ask it as the last or second to last question in an interview before I open up time for the candidate to ask me their questions. I usually ask it by saying, "What haven't I asked you about that I should have?"
The variety of responses is always amusing. On a positive note it allows the candidate to potentially showcase something relevant. Or they shrug, which usually implies a lack of passion, drive, or excitement, and that is telling as well.
Thanks Sherise. Great strategy. I use that question when I interview authors. Some responses are very useful.
Sometimes I ask, “What question would you love to hear?”
Thanks, Dan. Have been following your site since 2010.
Wow!! That’s incredible. Thanks for sticking with me through good and not so good posts. 🤗
“A typical job interview is a conversation between two liars,” – I agree with that, unless one person starts talking about God or church or prayer. This is why I believe some of the best places to work were arguably places like those founded by Quakers – Hartley’s (Jam), and Cadbury’s who promoted the spiritual development of their staff and set standards in employee welfare and labour relations that other enlightened employers of the time sought to follow.
Thanks dan27music. Fascinating perspective. I hadn’t thought about this angle. I’m glad you joined in today.
In the last week I have seen the obituaries of three people with whom I had a connection. It always bothers me to learn new things about people in their obituary. I admired all three because in our brief interaction they were all kind. In the interactions they were showing their expertise and their dedication, either to work or to their community or more specifically to youth. I admire many people. In this time when so much public discourse is ugly and rude I remind myself that magnificent people are all around. Chat with them, ask them questions, find more people to admire.
I admire Dan, his dedication to this topic and his curiosity have made it one of the few emails I open and read EVERY DAY. I share it frequently. Thank you Dan for making my life better.
Thanks Anthony. It’s an encouragement to read your comment. As I thought about it, I realize I admire many people. I can admire someone who has glaring faults. Often, people with remarkable strengths have noticeable frailties.
I admired my mother as a young child. She is a kind, loving beautiful woman. Unfortunately, she has always been ill. She was a single mom doing her best. We did not have much and most times I wanted something, especially a big thing like a field trip at school, the answer was no. Not because she didn’t want me to. I could see and feel the pain she felt saying no. She just didn’t have it to give.
As an empath and not wanting to see/feel my mom in pain, I decided it was better to not want anything. Yes, apathy. As a young adult, it literally scared me to want something. Just the act of wanting it meant I wouldn’t get it. It had been proven over and over again.
Once I realize this, later in life than I wish, I have had to train myself to want things and to go for them in spite of the fear of disappointment and self-sabotage. It has been a difficult journey, one that most people that I’ve shared it with do not understand.
The way we decide to see life as a child really does play a role in our journey. I’m so grateful that I have decided to look deep within and learn about my hidden parts.
This article made me think! Especially, this statement, “The people we admire show us what to want.” Or, to not want at all! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing your story, Jessica. I find it powerful and enlightening. I think our lives reflect our youth. We are always who we were when we were 13. It doesn’t mean we have to let that control us, but we never cut our ties with our young selves. I wish you well.
“Excluding your parents, what three living people do you greatly admire?” That would be my Chinese wife of 40 years who took a chance in 1982 to Love me and move with me from Taiwan to the USA when so few white guys were marrying Chinese women. The 2nd would be our Daughter Shao Lin who we adopted from China in May of 1994. She allowed me to be her Loving father and to be in her life and to help her from the beginning. She found her love also a China adoptee and at 29 is the proud loving Mother of our two Grandsons (30 Months and 6 months). The last would be our Son Jason who we also adopted from China in December of 1995. Jason came to us from one of the poorest orphanages in China and with significant developmental delays. He has the largest heart of any man I’ve ever known and has had to work so hard to succeed. This fall he will be attending CSULB (Cal State Long Beach) in the same Masters Program Steven Spielberg took back in the day. These last two years have been tough on Jason but he has honed his patience and grace more than his peers with me helping guide him along.
I like the admiration question. The ones I use most are, “what get’s you most excited in your work?” or “what get’s you up and going in the mornings?” My wife often asks this one in a “get to know you” conversation: “If you had a completely free Saturday, with no obligations and money was not a constraint, what would you do with your day?”
Both of these type questions seek to understand what makes you tick and where you derive value. Thanks for providing more good probing questions today.