It’s all in the set up.
You are at this luncheon, which features a speaker. There is a round table with 7 other people. Typically there is a plant arrangement directly in front of so there is no chance that you can talk to anyone directly in front of you. That leaves the person to your right and the person to your left. Part of you may wish you were the speaker, but you quickly shut that voice up.
You turn the total stranger to you left and say: ______ you say what exactly? Do you have to be a phony and pretend to be interested? Smile and say nothing? Excuse yourself and go to the restroom until the speaker is introduced?
So here is what to do. There is no selling or persuasion. This is what really matters to you and what matters to that person sitting to your left:
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1. The first “bridge” is determine just exactly what do you have in common? And this is actually pretty easy. It can be ANYTHING (that you have an interest or opinion). In the example above, YOU picked the luncheon because YOU wanted to hear the speaker talk about something that YOU were interested in. Of course you researched not only the topic but the speaker as well. So you can simply turn to the person on your left and simply ask: “What have you heard about the speaker?” Or “What impresses me most about the topic is _______. How about you?” Hell you can even talk about the food, baseball. ANYTHING.
2. Now, turn your antennae way up. Be fully present. Do not allow any distractions when listening. When a person knows that they have been listened to, the establishment of your credibility is mostly there.
3. Show intelligent curiosity about what they are talking about. Ask good questions. Get clarification. Don’t interview or grill them.
4. Here’s the good part. A good conversationalist will then deftly turn the spotlight on you to listen to your thoughts. They value dialogue also.
5. As the “relationship grows” the dialogue can quickly and easily transition to different subject (e.g., business, health etc.). If it’s business, the topics might include the two sources of pain that all hiring managers are always thinking about: revenue and productivity.
The engine that keeps all of this on track is you being cognizant of your relevance to what they are talking about. Being authentic and transparent means that you are willing to find common ground and shared interests.
Of course this can go the other way. The two of you can have different styles as well as substance or belief. But that’s OK. You did nothing wrong here. You were OK. The person you were conversing with is OK too. The “chemistry” just wasn’t there.
It’s still a success because you were honest and authentic with yourself.
Thanks MDGovpics for the great photo via Flickr.