If frequent social interactions with strangers in the name of doing business are not your cup of tea, then you're not alone. About 30 people, many of them entrepreneurs stepping outside of their comfort zone, attended a workshop Monday called "Social Influence Hacks: How to Build a Rapport With Anyone Quickly." Rachel Kjack hosted the course in San Francisco. She is president of Social Fluency, a San Francisco-based company that offers a social skills training program.
Kjack spoke about a handful of skills--from conveying appropriate body language to being assertive--but there's one social skill she said stands above the rest. That's the ability to empathize with whomever you're speaking to.
It's essential, Kjack said, because the process of getting to know someone new is often done so that you can learn what you can do for each other. "It's what networking is about. It's what charisma is about." Kjack said. Here are her steps for quickly building a connection with someone you just met.
1. Ask a "what" question.
The go-to question when you meet someone new is usually, "What do you do for a living?" But Kjack warned that this could turn people off from the start. It might be the case that they're currently unhappy with work or that they're between jobs, and they just don't want to talk about it.
Instead, ask some other "what" question. For example, "What are you passionate about?"
Kjack admitted that this might feel a little impertinent. However, the answer to this question is really what you want to learn, as it gives you a good shot at having a meaningful conversation. If the passion question doesn't feel right, try asking something else like, "What have you enjoyed doing in your free time lately?"
2. Don't let it go.
Next, build on whatever they give you. Find out their very favorite aspect about the thing they mentioned--whether it's a skill, hobby or job. To discover even more ask, "Can you describe your ideal scenario doing [insert: the thing they said]?"
It's easy to imagine that if you stick to this script you might appear stilted. But if you're also paying attention to your posture, vocal tonality and eye contact (which a whole section of the class was dedicated to), you should be able to have a conversation with just about anyone, Kjack said. But it does takes practice.
3. Make an assumption about their values.
You were probably told in in grade school not to make assumptions, but it's OK in this case. In fact, this might be the most important part of the whole conversation. Based on the information that the person gave you, make a (positive) judgement. For instance, "It seems like you're a very creative person."
It's fine if your judgement is wrong, Kjack said. In that case, the person will probably correct you, and then you'll know even more about them. Or maybe you'll have opened their eyes to something they didn't know about themselves. "Think about it like a gift," Kjack said.
Lastly, follow up with them soon after. "You don't need to follow up with the elevator pitch," she said. "Follow up with the thing you just talked about."