Here I am sitting across a stranger on the train that I met 10 minutes prior, and she's already telling me her life story.
Her favorite pizza toppings, how long she's been married, what she loves and hates about her job, and her strategy on how to get free food on her birthday. Hint: Denny's gives you free breakfast on your birthday as long as you show your ID.
She even told me things I would never imagine a stranger would ever tell me in less than 10 minutes on a public train.
She was a businesswoman who works in downtown Chicago and we even exchanged business cards after our brief conversation. There is also a possibility we can do work together.
So, how did this happen?
How did I turn a stranger into a potential business opportunity? I'm not going to brag, but I'm kind of good at getting strangers to talk to me.
Here are three tactics I follow to have productive conversations with strangers. These tactics can be used for building relationships with co-workers and even generating new sales.
Start the conversation right away
She sat down across from me when she found out the door was jammed to get to the next train. As soon as she sat down, I used this to the opportunity to go "Hey, how are you doing?"
That's it. She was a little perplexed that I was even asking her. She responded back quickly thanking me for asking the question.
The key to getting her to open up was to ask the question as soon as she sat down and not halfway through which would have been awkward and like I planned this.
She could have easily said, "Fine," and put her headphones on. But she decided to open up which is surprisingly more common than you imagine.
Ask one question immediately, make eye contact and wait for your answer
I either ask "how are you doing," or "how's life?" I found that "how's life?" is such a different question that they weren't expecting, that they spend the time to take a deep breath and give an honest answer to it.
It's refreshing. What's interesting is that even though I ask the question so much, I don't think anyone has ever asked me how my life was doing.
Luckily, I'm not too depressed about it.
The key to getting a good response is to employ silence. Look like you're interested in their response. Follow the social cues. Are they energetic with their response or do they shrug their shoulders and give you a "do you really want to know?" look.
The silence combined with the eye-contact lets the other person know that you're serious about wanting a genuine answer.
Get them to lower their guard immediately by telling them a personal story about yourself
When I talk to a stranger, I usually tell a slightly embarrassing or personal story about myself. So for example, in this case, I said to her that this work day was rough for me and I didn't get anything done because of personal issues.
That resonated with her, and then she proceeded to tell me more about her job and her career path. I established trust, she lowered her guard and then proceeded to tell me more information about herself. As she went on, I kept digging in and asked more relevant questions. I had her go through a rabbit hole of follow-up questions, and she loved every second of it.
Use These Tips In the Workplace
If you're in an office setting, you don't always get to know someone in an intimate setting. You will exchange pleasantries, but that's about it.
When I'm in the office setting and I see someone grabbing coffee or hanging out in the kitchen, I use this time to ask them questions.
My go-to question is "What are you working on? Are you still doing X or Y?" I then follow up with "Are you enjoying it?" I know that seems like a personal question, but I've seen it time and time again, help drive better conversations with strangers and even distant co-workers.
I love learning about strangers. It gives me a unique perspective and allows me to see other issues others are experiencing.
The key to having successful conversations with strangers is to read the body language within the first 10 seconds. If they answer your "How's life?" question with "Good," then it's time to put your headphones on, look out the window and enjoy the scenery.
If you ever see me, please ask me how my life is. I would love to tell you.