Making connections meaningful – what to do after making the connection
Since I wrote last week on the C = connections as a follow-on to the BMC = Build Meaningful Connections post 2 weeks ago, I was encouraged to keep going with the M = meaningful (which I guess that means there will be a B = build post coming up shortly?).
Anyways…. so now that you’ve gone past the anxiety of making connections, how do you start making them meaningful? First of all, you don’t have to wait until you’ve gotten over your connection anxiety to start making the conversations meaningful. What you do need is a bit of practice. Now you say, practice what? Well if you step back and think about your own conversations that you’ve had and have been meaningful, you’ll probably notice patterns. Applying those patterns to new conversations will help make them meaningful as well. So what could some of those patterns be? Here are some suggestions:
When connecting with people, you often don’t know anything about them. But those people are telling you more than you think. By being observant and taking a look at the current situation, where you’re doing, time of day, what they’re wearing, holding, etc. you can learn a lot about someone. Your observation might have been the opening remark and a good way to make it more meaningful is to share something about you related to your observation. And being observant is also to the conversation. The words that are being said and the new information that is being provided. Take what is said and see if you can make a connection to your own experience”.
“Hi, I couldn’t help notice your York hoodie, do you go there?” “Yes” “I do too” and if you don’t “Oh , sibling does too”. Or “a cousin twice removed” Or if you don’t go there something like “I go to UofT and thought about going to York, how do you like it there?” Sharing something about yourself first related to the other person can be an awesome way into a more meaningful conversion.
“Hi, that’s a really interesting scarf, could I ask where you got it?” “This? I got it on a trip to New York” “Oh New York, I went there last year, how did you like it?” or perhaps “Oh New York, I’ve never been but have always wanted to go. How did you like it there?
Also, compliments go a long way as well. So combining being observant with a compliment is often a recipe for success. Make sure it is an authentic compliment.
And with everything, moderation is key as you don’t want to go overboard with the observations and the compliments or that ends up being a little bit creepy.
Be interested versus interesting
I have found good conversations often starts with curiosity. Being interested in someone. What they are speaking about. Their background. What they’ve been doing. If someone asks you about that vacation you just came back from, and wants to hear about the side trips you planned. The little hiccup with you meal that evening. The details of X, Y, Z that you did. Or about your family, and what they are up to? Or the event they went to on the weekend? You might ask yourself, why is this person so interested in me? If it’s a good friend, then they are interested in you because they care about you. So if it’s not a good friend, then could it be that they care about me too?
Now think about that other side of the spectrum. Those people that want to tell you about what they did on their vacation. How they spent their weekend.
Think open ended questions
I find many people have trouble carrying on a conversation. I’m by no means an expert and struggle to think of topics or have awkward silences as well. But I’m much better than I used to be. Being observant and being interested are great ways to have a conversation. Keep in mind that a conversation is like a tennis match, one person hits the ball to the other side of the net and they so by asking a question back. If you make a statement, the ball just hit the net. And you leave it up to the person (or your self) to pick it up the ball, and make the effort to start up the rally again. A question sends the ball over the net makes it easier for the person to hit it back. If they make a statement, it’s up to you to respond. And responding with a question will help the conversation be easier to carry on.
Another simple thing you can do to carry on the conversation to ask open-ended questions. An open-ended question requires more thought and description (“What do you find most interesting about the subject you’re taking?”), versus its relative the close-ended which typically has a set number of responses that are often one word (“Do you like the program you are in?”). The open-ended nature of the question forces them to provide more information, giving you more to ask about.
And another simple approach is to repeat what they just said, use the words “tell me more”. “Oh New York, I love New York. Tell me more about your time there”. If they didn’t give you enough information to go on “tell me more” will hopefully get more information.
Another way to make a conversation meaningful is to add value. That could be with information or a resource your share while connecting. Or for future work that you’ll do. Offer to connect them to someone you know. To help them with that volunteer organization they are helping with. To send them some resource they’d be interested, or whatever else. And by adding value, you are depositing into the relationship bank account. If you don’t then if you try to ask for a favor to extract value from them, then you’re in the negative (basically in relationship debt). Think about that person who is always asking, always taking; do you want to be around that person? probably not for long. But that person who is always giving and helping; you’d want to hang out with that person way more. So turn that on yourself and try to add value first.
Practice making it meaningful
These tips will hopefully allow you to make future conversations more meaningful and I encourage you to continue practicing. And take some time to reflect back on past conversations to see what worked (and do more of that) and what didn’t work (and do less of that or do it differently or in different contexts).