Purposeful approach the key to building relationships
Whatever our age, we’ve all been in situations where we are the new kid on the block. Whether we are brand new on the board of a professional association, starting a new job, or attending an event where everyone else seems to know everyone else, we are bound to be more successful if we take a purposeful approach to getting acquainted. That “purposeful approach” should focus on creating relationships and asking questions.
The problem with that is that many people have never learned to do these things well, especially in new situations. Employers and peers wrongly assume that everyone should be skilled at introductions, networking, and building relationships. I don’t know about your family, but in mine, we never sat around the dinner table discussing those topics. So, admittedly, this can be hard.
Think of the job seeker who, eager to impress others, gives an excessively rehearsed elevator pitch, or the nervous new employee who is trying so hard to impress his co-workers with his storied background that he fails to notice they are tuning him out.
When you are new to a situation, although you may have to provide some sort of brief introduction of yourself, your focus should be on others. That means listen more, talk less. Keep pretty quiet, don’t interrupt, maintain eye contact with whoever is speaking, ask thoughtful questions. Everyone will think you are a brilliant conversationalist.
Take the initiative to introduce yourself. On the job, it’s fine to say with a smile on your face, “I’m new here. I think my boss introduced me to you and a hundred other people last week, but I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name. Can you tell me a little about yourself?” Walk up to people at networking events, tell people your name and start the conversation with something simple like, “What brought you here?” or “Do you come to these events frequently?” Keep your conversations positive; instead of complaining about the snow that delayed your arrival, say you are excited to see the fresh snow because your kids love to make igloos out of it.
Keith Rollag, author of “What to Do When You are New” (AMACOM, 2015) says that, “As a newcomer, how you think and act in those first few seconds, minutes, hours, and days matters. What you do when you’re new often determines whether you will find the success, satisfaction, and happiness that drove you to be a newcomer in the first place.”
Those first few moments are pivotal. Remembering names is key for newcomers, too. Be systematic in your method for remembering names, whether you use a mental picture, repeat the name throughout your initial conversation, write it in a notebook, or collect business cards. Rollag says, “People are flattered when you remember their names, which creates something persuasion researchers call a ‘complimentary perception.’” And that, according to Rollag, leads to “greater compliance with requests and increased sales.”
So when you are the new kid on the block, take the initiative to meet others. Be a little vulnerable. You’ll find it pays off. Rollag says, “When I interview newcomers about their thoughts and emotions around self-introductions, I often find an interesting contradiction. Many newcomers describe their reluctance to approach and introduce themselves to busy, important people, and worry about having a good reason. But when I ask how they react when someone else approaches them, they’re usually quite happy to stop what they’re doing and get acquainted.”
That’s helpful insight as we move into the holiday party season, as well as for any situation when we feel uncomfortable being the new person.