It is an odd phenomenon to have become people more socially connected through the internet, yet more isolated as individuals. It is measured in the ease that we have in initiating conversations with people that we do not know.
Every day I find myself in conversation with people who are hungry for conversation. They want genuine connection. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they are from. It doesn’t matter their income level or employment status. They want conversations that are personally meaningful.
In every one of these conversations, someone has to initiate it. This is what I have learned to do. Most of my travel is related to the promotion of my book. It is all about finding how the book can have an impact upon their lives. In order for that to happen, I have to hear their stories. As I do, I ask questions that lead to a deeper encounter with one another. The result is that the sales of my book over the past year have exceeded my expectations. I attribute it solely to having direct conversations with people that I am meeting for the first time.
Starting a Conversation
Here’s how I start.
I want to be aware of the context first.
Where am I? Am I in a coffee shop, on a shuttle bus, in a plane, walking down the street, in a laundromat, a bookshop, a hotel lobby, a retail shop, a warehouse store, the bar of a restaurant, or a roadside convenience store? The reason why I am in that place gives me some possible indication for why another person is there. It is the first connection point.
I look for what links me to that person? It doesn’t have to be much.
There’s always the weather. Or sports, their work, or some historical landmark in the city.
Sitting on a plane, I often ask, “Where are you headed, home or off to work?”
If they say home, then, I may ask, “where are you flying from?”
If they say work, then, I may ask, “what do you do?”
Then I may ask, “how did you get into this kind of work?”
Or, if I have friends or family where they live, I may ask, “Do you know …?”
My point is to ask questions that get them to talk about things where we may have some mutual connection.
This doesn’t mean that I’m in a sales mindset. Quite the opposite because I want to establish a relationship with this person. I leave it up to them to invite me to pitch to them.
Even the most superficial conversation usually involves storytelling. The stories go down two paths. One is a hardship. The other is the pride of accomplishment.
At my book signings, I hear stories of bad marriages, loss of jobs, and dreams never fulfilled. People tell me about their work. One fellow came to my table and challenged me to resolve his employment situation. If I could, he’d buy my book. He bought the book.
Many people have never had someone who believed in them. Never gave them encouragement or believed that they could be a person of impact. As a result, they don’t believe that they can overcome whatever hardships they have experienced. They are one type of person for whom I wrote the book. Often, our conversation brings a transformation to their self-perception. Then, the book becomes a guide for building on our encounter together.
For those who have experienced the path of success, I want them to see the possibilities that remain unfulfilled. It is another odd phenomenon that people who have found some success in life begin to settle for average results. In fact, they become excellent at being average. How do I know this? Their success cannot be described in terms of impact. Again, in a matter of moments, our self-perception can change because of a random conversation that opens up new avenues of understanding what is possible.
Everyone you meet is on one of these paths. Being able to identify which one gives you an advantage in making the conversation matter.
The Impact of starting conversations
The point of starting a conversation is to create a connection that can matter in the moment. It is not about trying to impress someone. It is about creating an impact that makes a difference that matters.
Here are three personal results that you can gain by learning to be a conversation starter with strangers.
Confidence: In learning to talk to people, we gain confidence that we have something to contribute to another person. This confidence means that wherever we are, we know that we can have an impact.
Clarity: Through having meaningful conversations with strangers, we gained a clearer sense of what we believe. We learn to articulate our thoughts more clearly. As we do, our confidence grows.
Communicate: The practice of conversation is a form of communication. The stronger our conversation skills the better our communication skills become.
During the course of my book promotion tour this year, there came a point where people’s response to me changed. I attribute it solely to the daily practice I had of talking with people as I drove across the country.
The challenge that faces us today is that our circle of relationships tends to be small and with people just like ourselves. To be a person of impact requires developing skills which allow us the opportunity to make a difference in any situation and with anybody. I encourage you to find someone every day with whom you can start a conversation. If you need help, initiate a conversation with me. It is a place to start.