Say you’re in an informal environment, like a party or a coffee date, and someone says to you:
“Tell me about yourself,” or “What’s your story?”
You panic, right? You don’t know what they want to hear because it isn’t a job interview or a work conference. It’s too open ended. There are too many things to choose from and you haven’t prepared. It’d be easier if they just told you what they want to hear.
That’s why many of us ask, “What do you want to know?” But by doing that, you’re throwing away a great opportunity to connect.
What may surprise you is that when someone says this to you, they’re probably not asking for a chronological recollection of the big moments in your life, or a summary of what you’ve been doing lately, or what you do for work.
Think About The Question From Their Perspective
They’re not giving you a math test. They’re not asking you to pick the correct answer and write it in the box. What they’re asking you to do is take the lead in the conversation.
Most people see answering these questions as a chore. They answer them like a monotonous necessity that they have to get over with. They talk about stuff they don’t want to talk about.
But you have a choice, right? You can choose to not bring up anything you don’t want to talk about. You can choose to lead the conversation towards something you know you can deeply connect on.
So where do you want the conversation to go? What would you be genuinely excited to talk about? That’s how you answer.
“Tell Me About Yourself” — Let’s Explore An Example
When Jim is at a party he’ll say something like…
This is your typical work plus hobby answer and there’s nothing wrong with it. Though there’s always room for improvement, right?
If you’re genuinely excited to talk about psychology, then why not add something like:
(As long as it’s true.)
Because without that, they know you DO psychology, but they don’t know that you’re excited to talk about it.
Likewise, if you’re genuinely excited to talk about tango, then why not add something like,
Because now they know you want to talk about it.
And by the way, just because you like psychology and tango doesn’t necessarily mean you want to talk about them with this particular person. You might not. In which case you can give an entirely different answer to “tell me about yourself.”
You could say, for instance, “Hmm, let’s see. My favourite Disney movie is Aladdin.”
And you might think you’re being closed off by bringing up Aladdin… because you haven’t told them what you do for work or hobbies. But work and hobbies aren’t really who you are, unless you’re genuinely excited to talk about them.
If you’re more excited to talk about Aladdin, then Aladdin is closer to who you are than your job is. I’ll show you what I mean.
If you think about why you like Aladdin you might say,
And now you’ve told them something about yourself that’s more personal than just studying psychology and doing tango dancing. You’ve led the conversation to a different level. And that sets the tone for them to respond on that same personal level.
Whichever way you answer, the other person will likely engage you on that same level. So if you want the other person to be playful, give them a playful response like the Aladdin example.
Or maybe you don’t want to be playful. Maybe you want to take the conversation somewhere meaningful right away by saying something like “I tend to push myself to do things I’m afraid of, because I feel like it expands my comfort zone.”
It’s up to you. They’re asking you to take the lead.
So if you choose to answer with “I do x and y,” that’s probably what you’ll get back from them too. And if you can’t connect on their x and y, you’re kind of stuck.