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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Getting Acquainted

Have you ever found it hard to talk to people you don't know? You find yourself in that awkward place of having to spend time with someone you hardly know anything about. You wonder what you can say that will "warm them up" and not make you look stupid. Over the years, I've noticed a couple of things about relationships and friendships.

The first thing I've noticed is that people like to talk about themselves. So that's always a good topic to start with! In fact, for most human beings, it is probably the favorite subject. Me, my experiences, my opinions, my perspective, my hopes and dreams, my history, my plans. And to a lesser degree, my pain, my fears, etc.

The second thing I've noticed is that relationships don't generally get off the ground unless there is mutual value. That means that we both must find value in the relationship if it is to become a genuine relationship. That may sound selfish or even crass, but I'm not convinced that it is. I think it is just one of those elements of humanity that must be dealt with in reality.

So what do we do when we find ourselves needing to talk to someone we don't know? There's a simple acrostic for this. I didn't invent it and I'm not sure who did. But it goes something like this.
It is a five-point agenda for talking to someone new is found in the letters S.P.E.A.K. Here's what they mean in practical terms.

S = Ask the person to share their story. "So, tell me about yourself." Or the more colloquial, "So, what's your story?"

P = Ask the person to share their perspective on something. "So, what do you think of parties like this?" Or maybe pick another neutral topic. "So tell me, do you find it difficult to talk to people you don't know?"

E = Encourage the person in some way. Identify with them. Look for some way to offer them hope, affirmation or other forms of encouragement. "The color of that suit really becomes you." Or maybe even a comment on something they've done. "You know, I heard what you said about thus-and-such, and I really like your thinking on that subject!"

A = Ask what you can do for this person. "Can I get you another glass of punch?" Or maybe, "Can I introduce you to my colleague, who I think could help you network for that new job?" If you don't see anything you could do for this person, you can also just be direct. "Is there anything I could do for you today?" (Some people may at first find this strange - but they will usually appreciate the gesture of you wanting to somehow bless them.)

K = Find out what knowledge this person has that you would value. What topics do they know about? What learning do they have? Who do they know? Is there someone they could help you get connected with?
At the end of the day, you want to leave that person with the conclusion that meeting you was a worthwhile endeavor on their part. We may walk away with the realization that we have nothing in common and aren't likely to be friends. But even then, we can also walk away with the satisfaction of knowing that we weren't intimidated by an otherwise awkward situation, and that we looked for merit and value in all of the circumstances we found ourselves in.

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