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Asking these 4 questions at work can make you more successful, says psychologist: ‘You can find out so much'

Richard Davis

It's hard to make the meaningful connections you need to succeed at work. Many people only have surface-level relationships with their colleagues — enough rapport for small life updates or brief banter, but no real sense of each other's personality or character.

Four quick questions can change that, says organizational psychologist Richard Davis, who's spent almost two decades advising CEOs and clients ranging from the National Basketball Association to outerwear giant Canada Goose.

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"There are thousands and thousands of factors that you can boil down into five main traits of a person. I call them the personality blueprint," Davis tells CNBC Make It. "They are intellect, emotionality, sociability, drive and diligence."

You can unveil those personality traits by asking someone these four questions, Davis wrote in his book "Good Judgment," which published last week:

  1. Who was an early influencer of yours?
  2. How are you similar or different from that person?
  3. Describe the people in your inner circle of friends?
  4. What are your friend turn-offs?

"You can find out so much more about someone, whether you're in a work environment or otherwise, by understanding who they were in their earlier years," Davis says. Each question can lead to follow-ups, he adds: If someone says their mom was an early influencer of theirs, you can ask how they're similar or different to their mom's disposition.

The answers to these prompts can help you interact with your co-workers more thoughtfully, Davis says. If your colleague has a friend group full of extroverted people who speak their minds, they might appreciate it if you schedule the next coffee chat you have with them — taking the task off their plate.

It's all about understanding people's "core values" and building relationships based off of them, Davis says. Eighty-five percent of workers who have strong, authentic connections with people in the workplace say it has positively impacted their career, according to a 2023 survey from the Society of Human Resource Management.

There's just one caveat to Davis' advice, he says: You can't really know someone else until you know yourself, build a good sense of self-awareness before getting to the bottom of someone else's character.

"Doing some self reflection on the personality blueprint that I described is really, really helpful in order to actually characterize other people in the same way," says Davis.

How to build self-awareness

You can build self-awareness by getting feedback on your character from the people around you, psychologist Juliette Han told Make It last year. "Sometimes, you don't realize what your strengths are until you see them through someone else's eyes," she said.

You can also channel your inner Socrates, according to Tamar Gendler, a Yale University philosophy and psychology professor: The Greek philosopher often asked "why" in response to everything someone said or asked.

Do the same for your own values and beliefs, Gendler told Make It last year. If you're trying to get rid of your perfectionism, ask yourself questions like: Why is it difficult to give myself grace? What am I afraid will happen if I make a mistake? Why does outside validation matter so much to me?

It may help to imagine yourself having the same conversation with one of your real-life friends, Gendler added.

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Plus, sign up for CNBC Make It's newsletter to get tips and tricks for success at work, with money and in life.

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