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Monday, October 5, 2009

Connecting with Strangers

Some people are just naturally outgoing and have never met a stranger. I said, "some people". I don't think most of us could be considered naturally outgoing.

So, for those of us who need or want to connect with others, be they strangers or just people we don't know very well, there's a quick, easy way to accomplish our goal. The answer is to talk about the other person's favorite subject. 99% of the time that favorite subject is them and their lives. We probably can't connect with that other 1% so let's focus on the majority of the people out there.

I was at a family reunion a couple of years ago. I found myself sitting next to the husband of one of my cousins (we'll call him Barry). I didn't know the man very well at all. Pretty much, all I knew was his name. I guess I had a few choices. I could move to another spot on the patio and speak with a relative who I knew better, I could just sit there, or I could engage the man in conversation. I chose the latter.

I let the spotlight (as author Leil Lowndes calls it) shine on Barry. We talked about his work, family, hobbies, etc. and it was a pretty enjoyable conversation. I just made up my mind, at the beginning of the conversation, that we weren't going to focus on me. Every time the "spotlight" shifted in my direction, I gently pushed it back at Barry. Like CBS correspondent, Steve Hartman, says in his feature series of the same name, "Everybody has a story." So did Barry.

Before I knew it, Barry and I had spoken about 2 1/2 hours. I learned a lot more about a relative and he seemed to like it that someone was interested in hearing about his life (we all would like it, right?). I felt like we both came away from the conversation with a better understanding of the other and that's a good thing.

We can use this approach with just about anybody. We just have to be willing to NOT be center-stage for a few minutes. The results can be huge whether our conversation partner is a client, a colleague, a relative, or just a stranger.

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