The Power of ‘Lately’: How to Ask Personal Questions that People Want to Answer


You’ve probably been in the following situation: you’re talking to someone whom you don’t know very well, and in an effort to get to know you better, they ask something along the lines of “what’s your favorite movie?” or “what’s your favorite book?”

Odds are that you now have to start racking your brain in an effort to decide which movie or book you’re going to pick. After all, there are so many great ones you like; it’s hard to pick just one. Besides, there are all sorts of favorites. There is the one that’s most epic, the one that makes you laugh, the one that inspires you, and so on.

The following example illustrates this pretty well:

I always hate it when someone asks me, “What’s your favorite book?” since I never quite know what to say. I have so many books that I love, many of which are in wildly diverse categories. I usually end up telling them that I don’t have a single favorite book, or even a category.

From a discussion on Reddit

This is why questions along the lines of “what’s your favorite X” are generally a bad choice in conversations. Luckily however, you can modify these questions a bit, to make them easier and more fun for people to answer.


The power of ‘lately’

Instead of asking people what their favorite film is, ask about a good movie that they watched lately.

This makes your question easier to answer for several reasons:

  • It narrows the number of options that they have to pick from.
  • It makes the decision less significant, which takes some pressure off.
  • It focuses the decision on recent experiences, which are easier for people to remember.

You can substitute ‘lately’ for other variants, such as recently. The goal is the same: to make the question about an experience they had not too long ago.

An added benefit of doing this is that it makes your discussion feel more like a casual conversation, and less like an interview. It also helps you stand out and make a positive impression, since most people will go with the default “favorite X” questions.


Other types of good personal questions

There are other ways to modify personal questions that you ask, so that they will be easier and more fun for people to answer. All these options revolve around the same theme, which is to avoid asking the other person for a single, definitive answer. Some of the options you can use are:

  • What’s one of your favorite books?
  • What movie really made you laugh?

You can combine this with using ‘lately’ if you want:

  • What book did you enjoy reading lately?
  • What movie made you laugh lately?

Similarly to adding ‘lately’, these variations also makes your question feel more like a part of a natural conversation, and less like an interview.

Note that different people will respond differently to the various questions, so you can modify the type of questions you ask based on the person you’re talking to, and based on the context of your conversation.


Summary and conclusions

  • A lot of people hate answering questions in the format of “what’s your favorite X”.
  • The problem is that these questions are difficult to answer, as it’s hard to pick a single, definitive answer out of all the available options.
  • Instead, you should ask questions about things that people encountered lately, such as “what’s a good movie that you watched lately?”
  • You can also modify these questions further, by asking people about specific types of books/movies, such as a movie that made them laugh.
  • Doing this makes your questions easier and more fun to answer, while also making the conversation feel more natural.