“Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people.” – Atul Gawande
I was reminded recently that I might need to think about editing myself a little around new people. In my line of work (the acting side, as opposed to the writing side) I am always entering rooms full of new people with whom I have to connect and work quite intimately with very quickly.
Sometimes, if I have not prepared myself… if I have forgotten to communicate consciously, I come on too strong, give away too much too early, or make assumptions about a person’s humour or preferences. The result is rarely catastrophic, but I often leave these situations full of new folk wishing I had been more mindful about my approach. So, as a reminder to me, and perhaps a help to you, here are a few thoughts on engaging with new people in a conscious and mindful manner!
Try not to make up your mind about who a person is before you have even said hello to them or asked their name. Just like yourself, people are complicated, and though labels help to give people broad strokes, there is not a person on Earth who won’t surprise you if you are lucky enough to dig deep enough. Try and greet every ‘new’ person with curiosity as opposed to assumption.
2. Ask Questions
And so, how do you then go about working out who they are? Well, ask questions of course. Keep them appropriate but meaningful. ‘Where are you from?’, ‘How are you today?’, ‘What are you up to this weekend?’, for example. If you get the measure of them enough to ask a few sillier questions, that can be a great ice breaker too. ‘What’s your favourite biscuit?’, ‘Cats or dogs?’, ‘Where do you stand on the Jaffa cake, biscuit vs. cake issue?’.
3. No Small Talk, No Big Talk
Small talk, by which I mean mundane questions that don’t really dig into anything specific about the other person, is no way to get to know somebody, or really engage with them in any meaningful way. Interaction is much richer if you avoid the ‘How did you get here?’ and the ‘Do you like this weather?’. Bigger talk, like the questions listed above under point 2, is a much better way to connect with people and to search for common ground productively.
Avoid the impulse to interject with information about yourself, or to try and prove you know what they are about to say. Really listen to the answers that they give to your questions and dig deeper into them by springboarding off points they have already made. Show interest in this way. This is a good foundation for building trust and respect.
5. Be Yourself
I am often guilty of assuming things about people, and then trying to act in a certain way to impress them fast. I have even slipped into talking in a similar fashion to someone I felt was dominant in order to get them to like me. This is no way to start a new interaction with someone you don’t know. If you are not yourself, how can you give them an honest representation of yourself? Not everybody is going to like you right away, and that is OK. Just be the best version of yourself, only then can you find a genuine way to click with them.
By Chris Thomson
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