Business is done by and between humans. Business is a relationship. Although humans come in a multitude of sizes, shapes, colors, and cultures, at the end of the day, we can all be reduced to an individualized mix of what Tony Robbins has called the six human needs: certainty, uncertainty, significance, love/acceptance, growth, and contribution.
Building a virtuous cycle of business and personal relationships that accelerate your access to better people, bigger ideas, and new strategic resources is a lucrative and fulfilling exercise. Mastering these seven conversational ingredients of a social engineer is a worthy investment of your time and will pay large dividends and build lasting relationships at scale.
1. Be Generous in Your Approach
How you approach anything is how you will approach everything. When it comes to making the rest of this conversational framework work as intended, the approach is key. It can begin with a simple hello, but the underlying DNA of your approach should be grounded in a "give first" mindset and a sincere curiosity about what the other person is trying to accomplish in his or her life or business, and an openness to being generous with your capabilities, networks, or unique knowledge base to be a helpful resource.
2. Respect and Reciprocate From the Start
Respect your counterpart. In a new relationship, it is all you can do until trust builds. Give freely. Do not give to get. You should give with the understanding that by giving first and giving often, you set in motion a universe of activity around you that ensures that more good things will come your way.
Generous people in business are magnetic. You can win friends quickly by taking a few minutes to make them feel significant in their day.
3. Take Control By Giving It Away
Open-ended questions, leading questions, and categorical questions provide you insight into the personality, background, and interests of your subject. Your goal is to understand someone's motivations and pressing desires. Since you ultimately know where the conversation is going (and the other person does not), you don't have to control the answers.
Remember, this is first about establishing rapport and building bridges, and then it is about uncovering low-hanging fruit to bring value to the person's life in short order.
4. Find Out Where the Person Is From
The first categorical area to leverage as a way to build common links between you and the other person is related to where he or she is from. Everyone is from somewhere, and everyone has a notion of family. You can begin this track of conversation by asking, "Are you from here (wherever you met the person) or did you grow up somewhere else?"
It is an innocuous question that most people will have no trouble answering to a complete stranger. It also gives you an easy angle to penetrate. When the person answers, look for the bridge to your own life (i.e., do you know someone from there, have you traveled there, is it somewhere you want to go?, etc.). Say something complimentary about it to the person. Then ask, "Do you like it better here or there?"
If the person doesn't like it here, then quickly pivot to "Where would you live if you had the choice?" If he or she does like it here, then ask something like, "What do you like best about it?" or pivot into "Do you come from a small family or a big family?"
You are using this category to look for some common ground while you uncover a little more about the person's upbringing and the lens through which he or she views the world.
5. Find Out What the Person Does
In some networking environments, it isn't obvious what someone does for a career. In others (like a banking conference), you know that the person works in the industry. Start from where your prior knowledge exists and ask key questions like, "Have you been in banking your whole career or did you begin doing something else?"
The key nuggets to uncover from this category are twofold: "What do you like most about your current gig?" and "What do you like least about it?"
Armed with these two pieces of context, you can get clearer on what type of environments someone tolerates or thrives in as a professional. It also lets you know the terrain someone is currently trying to navigate as it relates to achieving corporate objectives and personal goals in his or her current role.
6. Find Out How the Person Blows Off Steam
Asking questions like, "What do you do for fun?" or making comments about things you notice on someone's desk or person (like sports team memorabilia or logo gear) gives you a quick and easy road into the person's hobbies, funs, and nonwork passions. Examples would include, "How is the team gonna do this year?" (as you point to the sports team paperweight on the person's desk).
Even if someone likes your team's bitter rival, you can build a bridge by saying something like, "You and I are gonna have to forgive each other for our mutual poor taste since I am a fan of XYZ, but the good news is I like good business more than I like anything else."
7. Figure Out the Person's Underlying Motivation
At the end of these brief dialogues, you are ultimately seeking a clear and directional understanding of what gets this person to move on an agenda. You will rarely (if ever) ask someone directly what motivates him or her. You will artfully uncover it through the holistic understanding of who someone is, where this person is from, what the person is interested in, and what he or she is currently challenged by and trying to solve.
By seeking to be a valued connector above all else, you will put yourself in the heart of your network as an influencer and create massive waves of return value in a virtuous cycle for all involved.