Meeting New Contacts

As I type this we are in the middle of a 21 day lockdown courtesy of the corona virus – obviously we will all get back out there eventually and when we do we will be craving social contact but we will also be craving new business.

The problem –

We have all turned up suited and booted at a business networking event and thought where do I start ?

How can I build rapport quickly with some of these other people who quite frankly are most likely just as scared as I am about making the first move?

In an earlier post I discussed the FORM method (Family / Occupation / Recreation / Motivation) but there are other questions you can use that will get the conversation flowing and who knows you may make a new friend.

The standard question I am asked when I meet someone is:
“So, what do you do?”

I am a recruiter, I have been in recruitment for 30 years and it is a challenging job beset with problems but it has provided me with the chance to help companies grow, careers flourish and of course a decent living for me and my family.

In truth – It’s also the last thing I want to talk about then I meet with someone.

In fact if you want to build rapport with someone it’s probably best to avoid talking about work entirely.

You need to find out what else excites your potential new contact and work out what else you have in common besides the fact that you both had to attend a networking event.

There is plenty of research from the world of network science and psychology which suggests that we tend to prefer and seek out relationships where there is more than one context for connecting with the other person.

Sociologists refer to these as multiplex ties, connections where there is an overlap of roles or affiliations from a different social context.

Research suggests we may prefer relationships with multiplex ties because they tend to be richer, more trusting, and longer lasting.

For example if a colleague at work sits on the PTA at the same school your children attend, or you go to Crossfit at the same box then you two share a multiplex tie.

In my life my solicitor and I play golf (badly) at the same club, we have played a few rounds together and when we meet at a networking event we never discuss work but when I have a legal problem he is the first person I call because I feel comfortable chatting with him equally he has referred me on to potential new clients because he sees me as a person he knows, likes and trusts.

For those fo you who work with others you will also see this: The work friend who is also a “friend friend” is far more likely to stick with you should one of you change jobs.

And it goes the other way, too: People who have at least one real friend at work report liking their jobs more.

Back to our networking event and avoiding the dreaded “So, what do you do?” opener.

You are at a work-related networking event or meeting another person in a work context, the question quickly sets a boundary around the conversation that the other person is now a “work” contact.

It’s possible you might discover another commonality and build a multiplex tie, but it’s far less likely to happen in that conversation.

Instead, start your conversation with something deliberately non- work-related and trusting that the context of the meeting will eventually steer the conversation back to work-related topics.

Toward that end, here’s a few open questions you could start with that will leave you more likely to find multiple commonalties and turn your new contacts into a multiplex tie – who knows they may even become a friend:

What do you like to do for fun?

This question steers the conversation away from work, unless of course they are lucky enough to do for work what they’d be doing for fun anyway. Even then, it’s understood as a non-work question and the most likely answers will probably establish non-work ties.

What exciting in your world right now?

This is a question that has a wide range of possible answers. It gives others the ability to give a work-related answer, or talk about their children, or their new car, or basically anything that excites them.

What are you looking forward to over the next few months?

This question works for the same reason, but is more forward looking than backward looking, it gives people even more options. Most people answer with a holiday or planned trip – you can share stories or who knows you may have already visited their planned destination so you can give them recommendations.

What’s the best thing that has happened to you recently?

Similar to the previous two, but reversed: more backward-looking than forward- looking. Regardless, it’s an open-ended question that gives others a wealth of answers to choose from.

Is there a charitable cause you support or do you volunteer?

Another big, open-ended question, you are also likely to either find shared ground or find out about a cause you didn’t know about.

It doesn’t really matter which of the questions you choose, the important thing is to ask a question open- ended enough to allow others to select non-work answers if they choose.

Having a chat rather than giving them your elevator pitch is much more likely to turn that stranger into a valuable new contact on your phone.

A final pro tip – once the conversation has ended and you have moved on make notes about the person you have just met on your phone then when you meet them at another event you can pick up the conversation easy and they will be amazed how much of an impression they must have made on you as you could remember so much about them.