I’m going to get a little bit personal with this post because I am writing it from personal experience, and from my heart. About a year ago I joined Cowork Frederick in an effort to get out of my house and talk to other humans again.
Being around other people helped me to gain a better understanding of myself and my strengths. I almost forgot that I am able to talk to almost anyone. But the truth is that my friendliness didn’t come naturally to me. In a lot of ways, it was a learned behavior.
For a long time, I considered myself a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. As a child, I spent most of my time reading alone in my room or playing in the woods by myself. I most definitely recharge my energies away from the noise and clamor of people. Over the pandemic (especially during lockdown) I found myself longing for any human contact. Even introverts need people sometimes.
Over the pandemic (especially during lockdown) I found myself longing for any human contact. Even introverts need people sometimes.
Over the last several months I’ve read what feels like thousands of blogs, articles, and social media posts about employees not wanting to return to the office. I understand that, I really do. As a freelancer, I have a lot of choices in where and how I work. If I want to get up early and write, I can do that. If I need to take a mental health day, I can also do that. It’s a privilege, I know.
A few days ago, a friend and coworker told me that I was “a real people person. A natural networker.” I was really gratified by the compliment. But it got me thinking, how did I get from the shy girl that spent most of her time reading alone to a person that could talk to almost anyone? The truth is I actually worked on it. Here are a few of the things that I learned over the years when it comes to networking and making friends.
1. Offer a compliment
This is one of those things that I learned from my sister. My sister is a true extrovert, a person who can really charm almost anyone. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that she was one of the most popular kids in our high school. Why? Because she was voted homecoming queen senior year. I was really proud of her for that because I knew she deserved the award.
A while back I read an article about the two kinds of popularity; social reputation (status) and social preference (likability). The more interesting kind of popularity (or likability) stems from genuine friendliness. These are the kids that treat everyone equally and with respect. They are well-liked among their peers because they really care about being kind to others. That was my sister.
For a long time, she was a professional server. She worked at a fancy restaurant and took her job really seriously. She also made good money in her position. I once asked her how she got such good tips. “I start out by complimenting people,” she told me many years ago. “I notice something about them, it could be a piece of jewelry or a new pair of shoes. I compliment them on it, and then I ask them to tell me about it.”
This piece of advice seems simple, but I can tell you that it really works. Most people appreciate a genuine compliment. They like to see that someone is interested in them. The next time you are around someone new, offer a compliment and see what happens.
2. Ask questions
This tip piggy-backs off of the last tip. People like it when you show interest in them. It doesn’t need to be a physical attribute, it could be about their favorite hobby, the last movie they went to see, or their cat. It doesn’t need to be something super intense or personal. And shy away from things that might be controversial like politics or religion. Watch for facial expressions that would indicate discomfort. Not everyone is comfortable talking about their family.
3. Do your research
This tip is specifically for those of us who need to network with other businesses. If I have a one-on-one meeting or zoom video chat, I try to make sure that take some time to peruse the person’s LinkedIn profile or website. I want to at least get a little bit of information about them to make sure I can ask pertinent questions. LinkedIn is really great for listing a person’s professional accomplishments and educational background. Once you know a bit about the person you are about to meet, you can also get an idea of whether a professional collaboration is in your future.
“offer ’em a firm handshake and a look in the eye.” – my dad
4. Be empathetic
This tip is one that I picked up from my dad, a former Baptist minister. Growing up as a PK (preacher’s kid) certainly had its ups and downs, but it was also a master’s class in people. My dad always went out of his way to make people feel welcome at church. He once told me that he always makes sure to “offer ’em a firm handshake and a look in the eye.” Now, there are lots of people who might not feel comfortable with handshakes these days (understandably) but the important takeaway is that you want people to feel ‘seen.’
You could also do this by:
- Offering your full attention to them (being present in the moment)
- Genuinely listening to what they have to say
- Asking about a relative or loved one that has recently passed away or is in the hospital. It might feel uncomfortable to ask about something so personal, but most people will be really glad that you asked. It shows them that you genuinely care about them.
5. Ask for help
It might not always be easy to ask for help, but it can be a great ice breaker! Asking for assistance can actually open an avenue to further conversation. People like to share their experiences and their expertise. You can ask others about the following things:
- Some of the best local lunch spots
- Help with learning new software
- About a subject they are an expert in
To recap, here are the tips:
Offer a compliment
Do your research
Ask for help
So we’ve learned a few things about how to talk to people again. I hope that you can put some of these into practice as many of you head back into the office. Feel free to put some of your own tips in the comments.