Networking: Strangers, Friendship, and Business Growth
You already know that uncomfortable feeling, that knot in your stomach that forms, when you enter a room, a bus, or any other location where only you and a total stranger occupy the formerly quiet space. What do you say? Do you say anything? Do you even dare make eye contact? Do you locate a point exactly 180° away from the other person and make that spot your own?
Why is it that we are so uncomfortable with strangers, after all, aren't they just people like ourselves? They simply have the unfortunate luck of also being alone in a confined space with a stranger. To the other person, you are the stranger. You already have something in common with them don't you? If you want to expand your network and grow your business, you must stretch from your comfort zone and embrace these strangers..
Who makes the first move? Why is it so difficult for some people to reach out their hand in friendship to another human being? Fear is the reason. Fear may be the reason but it is usually not rational or justified. After all, many times, fear is simply "false evidence that appears real." Justified or not, it feels the same. It may be uncomfortable, but it does not have to be that way.
I recall an incident where I attended a seminar at a Charleston, SC convention center. My wife had purchased my ticket as a birthday gift. I was to be front row and center to experience Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and a host of others over the span of an entire day. Having stayed at a local motel the night before, I had arrived at 6:00am the next morning for my planned intimate breakfast presentation with Zig at 7:00am. I arrived at the particular meeting room which featured just four large round tables and a single lectern at the front. A lone individual was seated at the foremost table and he looked terrified when I entered the doorway alone. It was just he and I in that room and you could cut the tension with a knife. What to do?
Decidedly, after briefly surveying the room, I smiled and slowly began to walk towards him in a friendly manner. My smile warmed him as he returned mine and gestured with a gentle nod of his head. At a distance of approximately 15 feet, I said "Good morning" with a bigger, even more genuine smile and waited for his response. He repeated my greeting and looked a little more at ease. While still walking towards him, I introduced myself and asked if he was native to the area. Just then, I arrived in front of him to shake his hand. He presented his name as well as his hand. I repeated his name and asked if anyone was sitting at the table with him or occupying the chair next to his. He indicated its availability and I removed my topcoat to sit down. He was relieved and I had made a new friend and valuable networking contact from out-of-state.
I casually mentioned in a deliberate, relieved tone, "Boy I am sure glad that I met you Dave. The thought of being here all alone until 7:00am was not a pleasant one." He took a big breath, exhaled and agreed. Leading the conversation with sincere questions, we talked on and on about many different items of common interest. I repeated this scenario with each of the next several "strays" that entered the room and made certain to introduce them to each other. Soon, everyone in attendance at that point, including Dave, felt right at home. We had a table of friends waiting to experience breakfast together. Each was now in position to network more effectively.
Some people will never make the first move. Fear overtakes them and prevents further movement or speech. No one likes to be alone, but, many people still will not take the first step towards new friendship. Their fear immobilizes them, paralyzing them into quiet inactivity. For others like myself, the first move is far easier and I almost always will make the first gesture of acquaintance. Someone has to. There must be activity and contact to expand your network
I am reminded of this story and others like it each time that I pass the high school bus stop at the end of our street. Most of the kids stand apart from the others and there is little interaction. Why? They don't know each other and generally feel uncomfortable with strangers. They fear making the first move and as a result, each stands alone. It's so foolish. Are we not all the same, created by the same God, endowed with the same similar general attributes and characteristics of human nature? Sure, we look different, but we are not at all different. We are closer to the same than most will admit.
I will often tell my children, "If you want to have a friend or make a new friend, then be a friend." That means to make the first move. Make an effort to make that new neighbor or new co-worker more comfortable by becoming his/her friend and making their transition into their new world a smoother, less frightful one. Offer to show the new student around and introduce her to some fellow students and possibly a teacher that you feel close to. Smile and help the other person feel welcome.
If the first move is easy for you, then make it and make it often, because for most of us, striking up casual conversation with a total stranger is a terrifying proposition. Smile. A genuine smile warms the heart and people will generally respond in kind. Genuinely say something complimentary or comment on something that might be of common interest based upon your surroundings. Be sincere. The other person will sense it and loosen up a bit. It's not so difficult to do and the rewards are great. Making the first move actually gets easier with practice. You'll see. People will be happy to be part of your network and help you once they are comfortable with you. Be a giver. Offer to do something for the other person. You will have ample opportunity to receive as your relationship grows.
Remember what Zig Ziglar always says, "You can have everything in life that you want, if you'll just help enough other people get what they want."