Here’s a test. Scan your file marked “New People Met” and bring to recent memory two or three names, faces, or circumstances when you met someone for the first time. What do you remember about that encounter? What was your first impression? What do you think your first impression was to each of those individuals? Did you glimpse a smile? Was the handshake weak, firm, harsh? What kind of space did you sense the other person needed between the two of you?
These questions and others speak to a phenomenon present in every encounter we have with another person. In many ways, we have a comfort level “meter” that moves through the color spectrum from red to green. Like a trusted analytical tool, that meter tells us, in light of all the data received—both conscious and unconscious— whether or not another person has a high probability of being a safe and trusted confidant. And yes, simultaneously, that other person’s meter is taking in all the data on us.
Studies suggest that any time we meet another person, both parties decide within a matter of minutes whether one or both want a second meeting. Long before we learn another person’s hometown, marital status, favorite sports teams, music preferences, career, or political leanings we decide “Yes,” “No,” or “Perhaps.” I have driven a stake in the ground on this issue.
We must lead with warmth, empathy, eye contact, and a genuine interest in the other person. But how?
First, resist the temptation to lead with an idea. In fact, if the words “statements,” “investments,” “the market,” or “What do you think?” show up, find a way to warmly smile and move the conversation back to the relational neighborhood. That new person with whom you are conversing thinks you want to hear quantifiable questions. They assume that’s where you live. Our job is to turn that expectation on its head and in so doing disarm all those performance subjects by focusing on the human connection. Do this and, more times than not, the statements will follow.
Second, explore genuine ways to bring from others their story, interests, family, and their work. Occasionally, inject a snippet from your story building connective tissue one step at a time. Monitor physical space, warmly smile, nod, laugh, and respond more with the words “feel” and “understand” than “think,” or “believe.” The more others talk about themselves, the larger the connection becomes.
Third, if your meter is in the safe zone and you sense theirs is as well, ask if the two of you might see each other again. “Would you have time to grab coffee one morning or afternoon?” Find commonalities: “I plan to be at the game as well. Perhaps we’ll run into each other.” Or, “The next time you see ______, please tell her I say ‘Hello’.”
Raising the comfort level in any conversation may be good for business, but it’s fundamental to creating sound, meaningful friendships. My experience has, with rare exception, moved strangers to friends and friends to clients and clients to close friends embracing this simple but powerful way of connecting with others.