Since the pandemic began, fulfilling my extrovert desire to be around people all the time has been challenging. Thankfully, we live in modern times, where connecting, networking, and building relationships can happen with the click of a button. As quickly as I pivoted from in-person to remote research and conversations, I also pivoted from in-person, out-in-the-world to remote encounters. Neither are new or foreign; what’s different is our collective reliance on them.
Webinars and virtual conferences have become my now networks, social media and referrals my new airplane seats. Every call, video chat, and socially distant outdoor meeting is a metaphorical happy hour to me. Every connection I make and conversation I have is a reminder of how much we learn and receive from each other. Here’s what I’ve (re)learned about how to stay connected from a distance:
Forget what your mother told you, talk to strangers
That’s what I say. There are three other voices in my head that are asking to be heard as well. The first is my father, who is reminding me of one of his favorite lines: Safety first. He lived by that motto until he died. He had seat belts installed in his Ford station wagon in the 1950s before they were standard issue. There’s also the Executive Director of my children’s day care center, who educated generations of families to recognize and respect the uh-oh feeling – what, as adults, we refer to as gut instinct or intuition. The third voice is the Irish poet William Butler Yeats who said, “There are no strangers here. Only friends you haven’t met yet.”
Ask and accept
Another one of my father’s favorite sayings was. “Ask. The worst they can say is no.” What I’ve learned by inviting people to have a call is that the majority – over 90% – say yes. Try it yourself. Expect a yes. And when you’re invited, say yes. Am I hearing your voice now? Are you saying, ‘What are we going to talk about?’ ‘I have nothing to say.’ ‘I’m an introvert – I don’t do this.’ ‘Easy for you to say – you like doing this.’ Well, I’m here to assure you introverts do this too. Especially when it’s a one-on-one conversation, introverts shine. I know an introverted young man who was contacted by a recruiter. He took the call and quickly realized the job wasn’t right for him. The conversation took a more general direction after that, asking each other about where they live and how they are doing during the pandemic, which led to a conversation about location, working from home vs. commuting, and a new friendship. That’s how this works: We show up interested in learning something from each other, ask a question or two to get the conversation started, and the course of the conversation takes on a life of its own. Will the recruiter help him find the right job? Maybe. Will the introvert help the recruiter fill jobs? Maybe. Do they both feel good about the conversation, themselves, and knowing each other? Definitely yes.
Exchange puzzle pieces
The Holy Intimacy of Strangers, by Sarah York is one of my favorite books. In her book, York talks about how often we exchange puzzle pieces with strangers we meet – we have some of theirs, they have some of ours. A business idea. A book they’d enjoy. A person they should meet. Sometimes the puzzle piece comes after the conversation. A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a friend who is starting a new business, and although I didn’t have a puzzle piece to share at the time, I knew I would. Five days later his puzzle piece arrived in an email that I would not otherwise have read, but the subject line was practically screaming, ‘This one’s for Steve – open it.‘
Tell, don’t sell
We ask and we say yes because something feels right. We have a good feeling about the other person. We share an interest. We have a friend, school, company, or passion in common. We’re curious. We may be able to help each other. We may already know we have their puzzle piece, or that they have ours. Before you extend the invitation, say it out loud. See how it sounds and feels to you as the recipient. Edit it until it sounds right, and you feel good about it. Making a good first impression is how doors get open and invitations are accepted. The most recent conversation I had was with someone who reached out to me on LinkedIn, looking to network. Rather than sell me, he introduced himself and used common interests as our connection to get the conversation started. When you ask to connect and talk, don’t sell. We are not hardwired to be sold. But we are hardwired to buy. Be prepared to talk about your business, your search, your need. Many of us take calls because we are looking for help, for a solution, for a new approach.
Practice the art of conversation
We all need more practice in the art of conversation. Have more conversations. Initiate them and accept them. The more we practice, the more we learn and the easier and more natural it becomes. We learn about our beliefs, fears, and expectations. We learn to listen better and to open our hearts and minds. Through dialogue, we discover the power of conversation, connection, and community.
Thank you to everyone who has invited me to connect and has accepted my invitation to speak, especially the former “strangers.”
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