A client hired me for coaching because he wanted to feel more comfortable and be more successful when networking. Besides feeling uncomfortable in general when mingling, he mentioned that he didn’t know how to respond when people shared something he knew nothing about. He was afraid of looking ignorant or uneducated so he would change the subject. I talked about how sharing your ignorance about a job or topic is actually a great opportunity to connect with people.
Most people enjoy talking about themselves and their jobs or hobbies. When you show curiosity and interest your conversation partner usually reveals more and feels more connected to you.
Growing up I was a shy, quiet child but I had an aunt who always made me feel special. She asked great questions to get me to open up – things like “What do you like about school?” or “What is your favorite TV show these days?” I felt she was truly interested in me and it made me feel safe and appreciated. Studies show that is true.
In one study by Todd Kashdan of George Mason University participants were paired with a trained “confederate” (someone working with the researcher, unbeknownst to the participant) to engage in an intimacy-building conversation. The participants who showed more curiosity in the confederate were rated higher as someone the confederate was attracted to and felt close to. The researcher wasn’t surprised by the results. He said, “Being interested is more important in cultivating a relationship and maintaining a relationship than being interesting; that’s what gets the dialogue going,” he says. “It’s the secret juice of relationships.”
I remember being asked by a participant in a networking training how he could be memorable when meeting people. I answered, be interested in others. I think he was surprised by my response, expecting to hear something more like wear bright colors and have a funny elevator speech.
Whether you’re five or fifty-five, people love it when you show a genuine interest in them. Being curious about others leads to stronger connections as the research has shown. So, if you meet someone who has a job or hobby that you don’t know much about, rather than avoid the subject for fear of looking stupid, ask about it. Come right out and say, “I know nothing about ___ but it sounds interesting. Tell me how it works” (or “…what you enjoy about it”, “…what made you get into that field” or “…what a typical day looks like.”) That said; there are a few topics you should not ask about because they are too personal. Those include anything related to money or income, someone’s political or religious views, health problems (“Why do you have a cane?) and sex. There is a difference between being curious and being nosy. Being nosy will not win you friends.
They say curiosity killed the cat but I say it only enhanced connection with humans, so don’t hold back in asking appropriate questions. Be curious and interested and you’ll find conversation and connections will be easier.