Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today, I want to talk about socializing and meeting new people.
For some, meeting new people seems to come very naturally. But for most of us, it can be a bit awkward, or intimidating, to walk into a room full of strangers and try to strike up a conversation. Knowing that it’s important to network doesn’t make it easy. And with the return to some sort of normalcy in many countries, there’s even more pressure to beef up our social skills. So where to start?
Well, a bit of preparation goes a long way. If you’re attending an event, find out what the set-up is and what kind of people will be there. The more you know beforehand, the less you need to process once you’re there. Then you can focus on meeting new people.
One thing I want to emphasize here is that meeting new people doesn’t have to look, or feel, like schmoozing. You don’t need to be fake to meet new people. Rather than seeing small talk as something you have to put up with, look at meeting new people as an opportunity.
And one way to embrace this opportunity and change your mindset is to focus on learning. Learning comes from asking questions. So, instead of “hi, I’m Charlie and I work for XL Logistics,” try “hi, I’m curious about that pin you’re wearing.” If someone mentions a funny experience, you can ask more about it rather than feeling you need to match it with a story of your own.
In fact, asking good questions is a really powerful way to build relationships. People feel honored when they are asked questions. They feel interested in the conversation when it relates to them. They feel someone is paying attention to them. And that feels good.
So, look out for things you might ask follow-up questions about. If someone says “my son and I went to Spain last year,” you’ve got two things to follow up on: the son, and Spain. So you might ask “oh, and how old is your son?” or “which part of Spain did you go to?”
If someone says “I work as a communications manager for Arcadia Forest Products,” you might say “oh, how long have you been there?” Or you might say “Forest products…so are you folks in the lumber business, or land management?” Note that if someone talks mostly about work, then the safest approach is to stick to professional topics. If they mention anything personal, then you can delve into more personal topics. That’s a judgment call you’ll have to make within the conversation.
Now, questions are great, but conversations shouldn’t be one-sided. The person you meet might be asking you questions. So you need to be prepared to give good answers. And the trick here, when you’re meeting new people, is to hit the sweet spot in terms of length. Not too long, not too short. And don’t forget to add a “how about you” to the end of your answer and help keep the conversation going.
Imagine someone has just told you what they do for a living, and they’ve turned the conversation back to you and asked about your job. You might try something like this: “Well, I’m director of partnerships at Atlas Banking. Basically, I handle business development and corporate sales. Been there about 10 years. Great place to work.” That provides just enough information and a few nuggets for the other person to ask follow-up questions on.
In all of this back and forth of asking and answering questions, you should be on the lookout for common interests or experiences. If you’re passionate about baseball, or baking or biotech, and someone mentions this topic, run with it. People with common interests don’t have to struggle to make conversation. When you find that thing you both share, conversation will flow more easily.
So relax, and look for those people you can connect with naturally. I want to emphasize again that meeting new people doesn’t have to mean becoming a new person. You’ll connect better with others, and with the right people, if you just be your authentic self.
That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.