3 Reasons You Should Talk to Strangers

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I talk to people I don’t know – a lot. You know how some old people just randomly talk to people?  Yep, it’s like that only different.  Maybe that’s not so weird here in Portland but it sure seems quirky after living in California for many years.  Back there it went like this:  get into your own little pod (okay, Mini Cooper, Tesla or whatever) and zoom from place to place until you eventually pull back into the “airlock” of your garage and quickly slip inside.  When this came off without a hitch it was easy to go unnoticed by anyone on your street – lest you feel compelled to make “small talk.”

In Portland, I actually know most of the people in our local Whole Foods, have at least six friends (not just on Facebook) I met while walking the mutt, and recently invited two different couples to dinner after meeting them in a wine shop and a restaurant. Strangers really are the friends and clients you haven’t met yet. This all started because I like to ask people questions. Being curious has led to some lively and interesting connections, great advice on everything from free pianos to buying a rental property, and even a few business referrals.

What’s interesting about all this is that people call me all the time wanting to learn influencing skills. There are about 3.2 million articles on Google on this topic.  I tried reading a few dozen of them and was not further enlightened. I guess you don’t need Google to tell you what one neighborhood field study (mine) has to say about growing your circle of influence:

Get Curious: If you want to be more influential, get out of your own head and get curious.  Ask more questions – real questions from a place of genuine curiosity.  When I notice the guy in the coffee shop gazing out the window smiling at my dog, I’ll usually start asking questions.  It worked even better while working onsite doing a client project last fall.  I met people who could help my project in the most mundane places, often through the genuine curiosity and a well-placed question.

Know Your Purpose: When I work with leaders who want to be more influential they often are being blown around by whoever is in the room or the strategy buzzword of the day.  I have them do a simple exercise to get clear on their purpose (see below to start yours) so they become more grounded in what’s really important to them.  And in almost every case, it’s not just about making money!

Create Rapport: This is all about meeting people where they are.  If you speak to someone who is animated and fast-paced and you aren’t, try picking up your pace and animation for a few minutes.  If they use words like results and create or avoid and steer clear of, you might just try using some of “their language” to connect with them.  This isn’t about mimicking someone, manipulating them, or losing your own identity – that’s beyond quirky,  it’s wrong! Rapport simply makes it easier to get things done.

Quick Purpose Exercise for Anyone who Works or Volunteers:

  1. What would you say if someone asked you why you care enough to be/serve on this team? If you met someone at work or socially, what would you say to them about this? What speaks to you deeply about your work?
  2. Take a few moments to write down some notes. What would you really say if given the chance?
  3. Go try it out on at least 4 people. Introduce yourself if they are folks you don’t know and tell them you are working on your purpose. Tell them what it is in 30 seconds or less. Ask them for feedback.

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