Whether moving in to a new home and wanting to meet the neighbors or just having a conversation with a friend/co-worker, conversation sure has changed over the years. Why? One reporter from bizjournals.com had this to say…
Technology has a lot to answer for.
Texting between cellphones was introduced around 1994. Facebook was launched in 2004. Tinder arrived in 2012.
Somewhere along the way, many people lost the ability to talk face-to-face with a stranger and make conversation. It’s time for a refresher course.
Why do we talk with strangers?
Aristotle said: “Man is by nature a social animal.” We enjoy the company of others. Sometimes it occurs naturally, like the conversation with your seatmate on an airline flight; other times we walk over and start the conversation.
Dating is an obvious reason we talk with strangers. However, business journals are about business. Readers often attend chamber meetings, museum receptions and community events. Although we might start conversations to pass the time or make new friends, we often do it to initiate business contacts, cultivate potential prospects or make influential connections that might lead to a new job.
Bear in mind, everything starts on a social level. First, people need to like you.
Is there a procedure for starting a conversation with a stranger?
In the 2015 movie The Intern, Robert DeNiro sees two young people texting each other across a room. He brings them together and suggests starting a face-to-face conversation.
As a business owner or professional, you often find yourself at networking events, also known as “meet and greets” or “grip and grins.” You see someone you want to meet. Perhaps you did some LinkedIn research on them ahead of time.
There are three steps to starting the relationship:
- Meeting them
- Identifying interests in common
- Laying the groundwork for seeing them again
OMG! It’s just like dating!
Exactly. As a successful business owner, you might have more than enough clients. However, if you are single and looking, these principles for making new connections can easily transition into dating.
Step One — Meeting them
Consider three strategies:
Strategy One: In sales, everyone loves referrals. The easiest way to meet that stranger across the room is to find a friend who knows them and ask for an introduction.
At this stage everything is social. Your friend will probably walk you over and say: “Bill, I would like to introduce Bob. The two of you have a lot in common….” Your friend disappears. You are on your own.
Strategy Two: Suppose your friend isn’t there. No problem. Walk over and adapt the strategy slightly. “Bill, my name is Bob. You don’t know me, but I think we have a friend in common.” Stop talking.
Bill will likely ask, “Who?” You mention your friend’s name. Bill will likely confirm he knows that person and ask your connection. You answer and follow-up with the same question. The bridge in conversation has been established.
Does this sound contrived? Of course it does! It’s just like dating. Everyone knows what everyone else wants, yet there’s a ritual you follow to get to the objective.
Strategy Three: Reality intrudes. You don’t know this guy. You have no friends in common. You run in entirely different circles. It’s time to deploy the compliment.
You did some research beforehand. This business owner just closed a big development deal. It’s all over the news. You walk over, introduce yourself and congratulate the person. You follow-up with a question: “How did you choose that building site from all the others?” Let the person talk.
Step Two — Identifying interests in common
Remember singles bars? If you walked up to someone and started your conversation by telling them how important you are and how lucky they are to meet you, that conversation will probably not last long. Yet in business, we often launch into telling our story when they ask: “ What do you do?”
When identifying shared interests, the object is to get them talking. It’s been said the cardinal rule of dating is: “The person talking is the one having a good time.” Why? Because people like to hear themselves talk and tell their favorite stories. When they explain what they do, you might take a keen interest and ask follow-up questions.
Here are a few basic conversation starters:
- Public event — “What’s your connection to the organization?”
- Private event — “How do you know our host?”
- Compliment — Admire something. Body parts are absolutely off limits.
Ideally, you want to learn about their passions or personal interests. You might start by asking, “Where do you live?” FYI: “Where’s home?” works too.
Dig a little deeper and learn what they do for fun. Do they travel? Play golf? Dine out a lot? Are they a wine fan? Find something where you share an interest. Draw them out. Volunteer some information they would find valuable.
Step Three — Seeing them again
People can get tired of you very easily. “Always leave them wanting more” has been attributed to P. T. Barnum, Walt Disney and others. You don’t want to overstay.
Detach yourself. Make a few notes in the restroom about the new person you met, because cocktails tonight will blur details tomorrow.
Circle back at the end of the event. The coat-check line and the valet parking line are two traditional bottlenecks. At networking events, people offer business cards, asking for one in return. This can break the spell, because this social connection might now have ulterior motives.
Try this strategy instead. Tell them you enjoyed meeting them. You have several interests in common. Name a few. This shows you were listening. Explain: “I would like to keep in touch. How do I do that?”
Now the ball is in their court. They will likely offer a business card, write an email address on a napkin or say “I’m on LinkedIn. Send me an invite.” If they say: “I don’t have any cards; sorry,” they probably have little interest in connecting. Let them off the hook.
Assuming they have an interest in connecting, I like to pull out a business card, writing “Bryce and Jane” on the back along with the home phone number. I present the card handwritten-side forward. It’s pretty obvious this is a social connection.
Starting conversations with strangers doesn’t need to be a lost art.
It can be overwhelming to walk up to strangers and start a conversation especially if you are not naturally an out going person. However, in cases where you are wanting to meet the new neighbors that you will be living next to for years to come, you have started a new job, or you just want to meet some new friends, these tips can help you. While technology is great, it doesn’t need to replace engaging in face to face conversations.