Connection – Talking To Strangers
30th September, 2014
I would like to dedicate this blog to Helena Oliver… once a stranger and then my very good friend and business associate… initially met at a business networking event… then welcomed into her extended family… very much missed.
Firstly I should caveat that this blog is not an invitation for young children to start approaching all and sundry… It does however question our programming from a young age… “Don’t talk to strangers” “Beware stranger danger”
Having worked with several groups recently and met many individuals who have an aversion to business networking (in any form), some thoughts have been bubbling around in my mind for a while. I began to consider the implications of this fear and perception of being the outsider… hearing statements from people such as “but they all know each other already”, and “I am not part of that group”, “they will be judging me”. Needless to say we discussed the self-fulfilling nature of this mindset (and the irony and lack of tangible foundation etc) considering the welcoming nature of the Cornish business community. It did however intrigue me and as somebody whose favourite game when I find myself in London is “facilitating group discussions on the tube” I started to question how altering this mindset could impact upon creating communities (be that social, business, or simply in relation to our home environment.)
A home-work activity I often give coaching clients and course delegates is to go and build rapport with people in the supermarket (or wherever they might spend significant time). This is regularly met with abstract horror rather than excitement, curiosity and enthusiasm. I have even had comments such as “It isn’t a normal thing to do” (whatever normal is). Now let’s be clear here… “build rapport with” is the important part of that challenge. That might be a simple smile for one person, or for another a full blown conversation about the benefits of Stilton over Danish Blue! Simply a request to make some degree of connection with another person.
Aiming to take this out of the work arena, I thought of a few recent examples I value, where this has played a role in my life…
Buying a rental flat this Summer in Plymouth I noticed myself sitting having a great chat with the neighbour. Within a couple of weeks of meeting her I have learned so much about not just her history, but also about the history of Millbridge. I have felt so welcomed and know that whoever goes to live in the property will have the opportunity to feel part of a community should they wish to. It has been a reassuring and enjoyable experience to get to know her.
Meeting a couple at a concert at Eden during the Summer, we made some instant connections, realising the number of gigs we had all attended and recognising that we had even stood within 5 meters of them in the past (the film Sliding Doors sprung to mind)! We have been for dinner with them a few times, visited each-others homes and shared gardening tips! We have learned loads about veg growing, laughed a lot and shared anecdotes relating to everything from music, to surfing, to the Swindon traffic system. It is great o develop new friendships, we have also introduced them to a couple of our friends and plan to introduce them to more. As they hope to move nearer the coast their system of friends and acquaintances has already begun to develop. A funny aside from this was that another new friend of ours shared that she and her husband had met a great couple at the pub one night and had a lovely exchange of thoughts, ideas and humour. When they went their separate ways at the end of the evening, they had been disappointed not to have arranged to keep in touch. When I asked how that had happened she said she felt a bit weird asking, although she guessed the other couple might have walked away with similar thoughts!
On a day out with my dad visiting the village he grew up in, we met three strangers, the first was a lady from the church who shared stories, it was great to see my dad reminiscing and the easy almost effortless communication that developed so quickly. We then met a lady who invited us into the school my gran had attended as a child, showing us where there were changes (and conversely where the past had remained so very evident within the present surroundings). We joked with her and went about our day with an invitation to return and a request to share archive information for the community records. The third person we met was a gentleman who was preparing a gravel driveway in the sunshine outside a beautifully extended property. My great great uncle Charlie had lived there… and within moments of saying hello, this man had very kindly invited us into his home and showed us how he had renovated the fireplaces… elegantly bringing the old world together with the contemporary design of his property. My dad shared some old photos, which the man was delighted to take copies of and again it was an enjoyable conversation with laughter and shared intrigue and stories. None of these interactions were long, possibly 20 minutes at the most and yet they added a human quality to the day that brought the past to life knitting it with the present and creating even more curiosity for the future.
These are only three of many situations that have involved three of my favourite things… curiosity, laughter and learning! I began to think about how many of my friends were once strangers… Unsurprisingly I had around a 100% hit rate on this. How many of my business contacts and clients were once strangers… Once again 100%. And then I came to local community acquaintances… And you guessed it 100%!
Whether our friends, colleagues or associates have developed through an initial spark of conversation or through a slow burn of gradual familiarity via a broader network, the connections we make are the glue that holds our system together and provide our place in the world.
Communities survive by people checking in with each other and being proactive as a result.
- If you know somebody who would appreciate a brief hello, even if just via email or text – do it, or if you yourself are feeling isolated – reach out and ask for help.
- If you have something amazing to share and you are networking to develop your business and livelihood– go and find out about other people’s business ideas and share yours – you never know you might develop a mutually positive connection!
All it takes is a little less fear and a little more curiosity, who knows who you might meet in the next week!
Good luck with making new connections and feel free to share your experiences of doing this by commenting on this blog.
See you out and about and if I don’t already know you – come and say hi!