Estimated Lesson Time: 6 minutes
Imagine that you work for XYZ Corporation, a large company that manufactures widgets. The company sends you and a few of your coworkers to an international widget convention where there will be thousands of your suppliers and potential customers. Once there, your colleagues are busy meeting others while you quietly keep to yourself because you do not see yourself as a “people person.” When the conference is over, your boss asks you for a list of the contacts you have made. You then realize that your lack of social skills may have just cost you your job.
I am generally a quiet person who keeps to myself. I appreciate solitude more than a social event full of small talk. At times, such as when I go to the gym, I purposely avoid eye contact with other members because I am there to workout, then leave, not to socialize. But I do understand that, at times, my future success and happiness depends on my ability to meet others. For example, the majority of people in the higher paid and status positions are those who have excellent social skills. When seeking a life-long companion, your selection increases significantly if you have the ability to meet other people, rather than making an eternal commitment to the first acceptable person who comes along. If you too are the quiet type, it just takes a little practice and a slight attitude adjustment to master this skill and turn it on when needed.
Let’s begin with attitude.
- Establish a desire for meeting others. If you’re being sent to a conference to make contacts and improve your relationships with existing vendors and customers, realize that your job may be on the line.
- Overcome shyness. Being shy is nothing more than a lack of self-confidence combined with the fear of rejection (see Day 200).
- Learn to like people. In the USA, we say, “innocent until proven guilty.” Adopt a similar attitude with people. Assume all people are good people unless they prove otherwise. If you dislike people, it shows in facial expressions, body language, and actions—it is like wearing a “Go Away” doormat around your neck.
- Don’t appear desperate. Desperation, like a dislike of people, shows right through. The best way not to appear desperate is not to be desperate. Have confidence that you will meet many people. The odds are other people will want to meet you as well.
Now that we have the right attitude, or frame of mind for meeting people, we are ready to take action. Here is a five-step process that works wonders.
- Evaluate the situation. Is it appropriate to say hello to a stranger or would it seem very awkward? In the movie Crocodile Dundee, Dundee visits New York for the first time and is seen walking down a busy city street saying “G’day” to just about everyone. At the other extreme, when two people pass each other walking, and no other people are in sight, that lack of some kind of greeting or acknowledgment can seem very awkward. Be friendly and greet people more often.
- Make eye contact and smile. If you are passing another person, or at least one of you is in motion, then look the person in the eyes with a warm and natural smile. This sends a non-verbal message to the other person that you are friendly and receptive to a greeting. That person can either avoid eye-contact or return the eye-contact and smile, meaning they too are receptive to a greeting.
- Say hello (or other greeting). Once the other person has made eye contact with you as well, say “Hello” or some other appropriate greeting while maintaining your eye contact and smile.
At this stage, you have established yourself as a friendly, confident person. If this is another person that you see on a regular basis, such as a person in your school, gym, or work, you may want to just stop here until a better time to start a conversation. However, if you feel the chances are slim that you will ever see that person again, then proceed with the following steps.
- Determine if the other person is receptive to conversation. Use some common sense here to avoid the appearance of desperation. Is the other person preoccupied with another activity or do you think they are open to a conversation? As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. If you feel as if this will be your only opportunity to meet a person who you really want to meet, then proceed regardless of the potential awkwardness.
- Begin the conversation. The best way to begin a conversation is with a topical and relevant question or statement that can easily lead to conversation. When someone is said to be “smooth,” they can ease into conversation without any awkward or uncomfortable moments. Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t ask generic questions and stay away from clichés. Lines such as “Do you have the time?” followed by unrelated conversation is not being smooth. However, asking another “Do you have the time?” in the middle of a clock store can be pretty funny.
- Find something topical and relevant to talk about. An opening line such as “So what brings you here today?” may be ideal for a prospect visiting your booth at a trade show. This can lead to conversation about their needs and how your product can fill those needs.
- Introduce yourself later after some talk. In most cases, beginning a conversation with an introduction is not the best idea. Generate interest first—create this interest, so the other person wants to know your name.
- Never start off by talking about the weather. When people have absolutely nothing to talk about, they talk about the weather. It is the “safe” topic people usually fall back on; it is not a good topic with which to start.
Congratulations! You have successfully begun mastering the art of meeting people. From here it takes practice. This process helps you initiate a conversation; then you can use what you already know about communication, specifically allowing others to talk about themselves or better yet, finding common interests to keep the conversation going strong. The more people you can successfully interact with, the better your chances of success.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)