Friday, August 8, 2014

F.O.R.M. (Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Message)

The Truth: We Love To Tell OUR Stories

Have you ever been in a situation where you just met someone new and there is an awkward silence in the room because neither one of you knows exactly what to say? Here is an interesting fact, people love to talk about themselves. Crazy, right?

If you look at a group picture, where you are also included, who is the first person you look for? Yourself, of course. Well, conversations with people are no different. Each one of us has a story to tell, but it's our job (as the listener) to get them to tell that story.

In the sales industry, or just when someone is working to be better at networking, I found that people use a technique called F.O.R.M. to break the ice on new relationships.

What Does F.O.R.M. Mean?

Ok, you're probably asking, "What is it and what does it mean?" F.O.R.M., which is an acronym that stands for Family (or from), Occupation, Recreation, and Message (money or motivation), is an easy way to build rapport with new people and carry a conversation from an awkward silence to a comfortable engagement.

The way F.O.R.M. works is by striking up a conversation with someone and using one of the four letters as a guide for what topics to discuss. Here is an example of how you might use F.O.R.M. in your next conversation. Imagine that you just met someone in the grocery store. As you both are waiting in line for the cashier to check you out, this might be a random (but quite standard) conversation.

Example Conversation

You: Wow! Those are some pretty neat shoes you got there. Where did you get them from?

Note: Notice that I started with a compliment? Paying someone a compliment is always a great way to break the ice. However, it is important to be sincere. Don't compliment someone if you don't truly feel that way.

Them: Oh, yeah! Thanks. I grabbed these on sale over at the Nike Factory.
You: Really. How much did you get them for?
Them: They were originally going for $200, but I bought these for $25.
You: Wow! That really is a good deal. I'm going to need to learn from you how to shop. (Laugh)
Them: (Laughing)
You: So, where are you from?

Note: I just moved from a compliment over to the first letter (F).

Them: I'm from Seattle. You?
You: I'm from Tacoma. Who do you know from Tacoma?
Them: I know tons of people...(this could go on for a while)

Note: For the sake of this example, let me move on to the next letter (O).

You: So, what do you do for a living?
Them: I'm an aviation engineer with Boeing.
You: Nice! How did you get into that line of work?
Them: (They respond with a story)

Note: Continuing with the conversation, I'll move on to the letter (R).

You: So, what do you do for fun?
Them: I like to shop, eat, and read books on hamster breeding.
You: Wow! I've never met a real life hamster breeder. (Ask another question here)

Note: At this point, you should see how it works. Since I've gone through each letter, let me finish with (M). For those interested in the conversation, topic, or person, this is probably when you'd say something about staying in contact. Remember, we are in a grocery line, so this conversation can only be so long. However, if you find that you do want to keep it going, moving to "M" is a great way to stay connected.

You: Listen, it's almost my turn to check out. I am really interested in hearing more about this hamster breeding idea. Would it be okay to exchange numbers so I can hear more about it?
Them: Absolutely!

What do you think? Easy enough, right?

For some, this may take some practice. The good news is that you can do this with people you don't know and people you know well. It's just a strategy for connecting with someone quickly and painlessly.

To help understand how easy this strategy is in building relationships with people, review the list of example questions that one can ask during a casual conversation. 


  • Where are you from?
  • Where did you go to high school or college?
  • How many kids do you have? What are their names and ages?
  • Are you married? What is your spouse’s name?


  • What kind of work do you do?
  • What do you like about your job?
  • What do you like least about your job?
  • How long have you been working there?
  • How did you get started in that field?


  • What kind of things do you do for fun?
  • Where would you like to vacation if money was not required?
  • What are some of your favorite places in the world?
  • What do you do to relieve stress?
  • What's the most exciting thing you've ever done?


Once you have built rapport with someone, the message portion of F.O.R.M. is really your transition toward booking a meeting from a meeting (BAMFAM). Assuming that you like the person that you're talking with, and you actually want to stay in contact with them, use one of the following statements to reconnect.

A good way to transition may be like this, “I couldn’t help but overhear that you [dont’ like your job, need more money, or want to vacation more], let me ask you a question...[use one of the questions below]”
  • Do you mind if we exchange numbers and talk more about it?
  • Do you keep your income options open?
  • Are you open to the idea of earning some extra money part time?
  • Are you open to earning a couple thousand dollars a month part time?
  • Are you open to the idea of traveling more for less?
  • If I found a way to [fill in the blank], would you want to know about it?
While for those in the sales industry may find the message portion quite valuable, the message can be simply used to reconnect on a personal (not business) level. For personal, simply exchange numbers or figure out how the two of you can connect again.

Secret Sauce: Listening

While F.O.R.M. may have gained popularity in the sales industry, the strategy is just as relevant in life. The key to success in talking with anyone is to be an active listener. 

What is an active listener? It's when you ask questions and actually take part in listening to the answer. Instead of using a question to impose your will and story upon them, take a moment to understand what the other person is sharing. The next question you ask should be built on what the other person just said.

It is important to understand that shooting off questions without giving a piece of your story can feel like an interrogation. So, get good at finding that balance between talking all the time, listening all the time, and a real conversation (ebb and flow of ideas). 

For those who are in sales, how can you ever begin to help people solve their problems if you don't know what their problems are? You have to take an active listening approach to first understand before you seek to be understood. 

Anywho, I hope this article on F.O.R.M. is helpful. I would love to hear your thoughts or experiences in the comment section below.

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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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