A few years ago, a famous Italian winemaker came to the United States on a mission. He was determined to open up a new restaurant in the Seattle area.
The winemaker and aspiring restauranteur was in the process of hiring his staff. While conducting job interviews with each applicant, he made it a point to pose one rather unusual question to each of his prospective employees. It didn’t matter if the position was for manager, cook ,waiter, or dishwasher. The question was always asked.
“Do you own any pets?”
Pets? This seemed like a very strange question. Especially for a job interview at a restaurant. After all, the applicants weren’t applying for jobs in a pet store.
But the winemaker had his personal reasons for posing such a seemingly oddball question. Immediately after asking about their pets, he watched the eyes and monitored the expressions of all those who were sitting across the table, eagerly hoping to be part of his new restaurant. He listened carefully to the way each applicant spoke about their pets. Were they excited? Were there expressions of love in their voices? For those who did not own a pet, was there a desire to get one someday? For those who no longer had a pet, did they grow up with dogs and cats? If so, how did they feel about them?
Naturally, this was a curious thing. The winemaker was asked what any of this had to do with owning and operating a successful restaurant.
“Why do you ask every applicant if they own a pet?” he was asked by the person who told me this story. The winemaker’s answer was intriguing.
“I don’t trust people who don’t have a pet,” was his answer. “ I prefer to work with people who enjoy animals, who give something of themselves. That philosophy has worked for me all my life — when I was making wine in Italy and here opening a restaurant in a new country — and I’m going to stick with it.”
Fortunately, the person who told me this story owned two dogs at the time. So, he got the job. Moreover, all the people who worked at the restaurant had at least one thing in common — a love for animals.
I enjoyed hearing this story. The more I reflected on it later, the more I came realize there is probably something to this unusual methodology of determining the good from the bad. It doesn’t have to necessarily have to be about pets or a love for animals, which I do highly value. But there are some questions, and more importantly answers, which reveal a great deal about a person’s character and values.
Think about it.
I tend to spend a lot of time meeting new people. On airplanes. In bars. At social events. I can usually tell within a minute or so of any conversation if the person I am speaking to is someone I want to get to know better — and perhaps even call a friend. I don’t necessarily use the winemaker’s method, but I’m convinced that questions like this instantly establish either a bond or a barrier.
Which is perfectly fine. Why waste time with those who do not fulfill some common need and curiosity? Life is too short and there are too many people out there who can and will provide what we all need emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. And to be perfectly frank, this is a two-way street. I’m sure I fail the “test” with many people who would have no interest in me whatsoever after revealing something of myself in an answer or two.
Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have such a barometer to use in all of our dealings with other people? No doubt, the question may trigger the unexpected and there might be some misses. But by and large, the winemaker’s method saves a lot of time (for him) and comes right to the point of what he looks for in people he hopes to work with and trust.
So, what question would you devise for strangers to determine whether or not you want to pursue the relationship?
Beneath job resumes, college degrees, and all the trappings of career and personal advancement, the things that really matter most and make us happiest are usually right at our fingertips. All we have to do is reach for them — and they are often right there.
And it often starts with answers to very simple questions.