Making meaningful connections at work can be tough. Many people only have surface-level relationships with their colleagues—just enough rapport for small talk, but no real understanding of each other’s personality or character.

Organizational psychologist Richard Davis, who has spent nearly two decades advising CEOs and clients like the National Basketball Association and Canada Goose, suggests that four simple questions can change that.

“There are 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 uncover these personality traits by asking these four questions, as outlined in Davis’s book “Good Judgment,” which was 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 learn so much more about someone, whether you’re in a work environment or elsewhere, 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, you can ask how they’re similar or different from their mom’s disposition.

The answers to these prompts can help you interact with your co-workers more thoughtfully. For example, 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—taking the task off their plate.

It’s all about understanding people’s “core values” and building relationships based on them, Davis says. According to a 2023 survey from the Society of Human Resource Management, 85% of workers with strong, authentic connections in the workplace say it has positively impacted their career.

There’s one caveat to Davis’ advice: You can’t really know someone else until you know yourself. Building a good sense of self-awareness is crucial before trying to understand someone else’s character.

“Doing some self-reflection on the personality blueprint that I described is really, really helpful 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 advised. 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 might help to imagine having this conversation with one of your real-life friends, Gendler added.

By understanding both yourself and your colleagues better, you can build more meaningful, authentic relationships that benefit everyone involved.

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