Relentlessly Practical*: Meeting New People

Have you ever met someone new, and realized at the end of the conversation you learned nothing memorable about them? Or have you ever walked away from a conversation thinking that the other person did not ask about you at all?

People generally tend to fit into one of these two categories, they speak mostly about themselves or they don’t engage with the other person. There are a lot of reasons for this: anxiety in meeting new people, trying to figure out what you want to say versus don’t want to say, thinking about the other things you have going on in your life.

It is possible to build a meaningful connection with others fairly quickly upon meeting them for the first time, even if it is a chance encounter.

In this post of the “Relentlessly Practical” series, I offer two tips for creating the foundation of a trusting relationship (and therefore increasing the chance of mutual liking and further conversations!).

  • Have 2-3 questions ready to go that are general enough to spark conversation, but not so general to be forgotten.What made you decide to enter this career path? What do you like to do to recharge? Where is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled? If you can, do a bit of research on the individual to help tailor your questions (I see you wrote a book recently, what was that experience like?). You don’t have to ask all these questions at once, instead sprinkle them throughout the conversation to keep the discussion moving.

  • Listen for interesting pieces of information that relate to you. Have they visited someplace you have? Did they mention a topic that really interests you? Did they say something you’ve never heard of before? All of these can work as points to connect. I used to live in that place you visited, have you been to the local coffee shop there? I have been looking into the issue of workplace burnout in my research, and I’ve found some interesting findings. I have never heard of that topic before, can you explain for me?

The point is to find ways to connect, and the best way to do this is by learning about the other person, and then sharing your similar experiences. We like people who are like us (whether we are from the same town, share the same name, or like the same things). And it turns out that people generally have more in common than they realize – if they can just have a conversation that reveals these commonalities.

Like many other behaviors, this can become habit. Experiment with it the next time you meet someone new and see how it feels. A note here: conversations are a two-way street! You may try this and find the conversation feels very balanced because the other person picks up on your cues; you may try this and still walk away feeling like you directed most of the conversation. Either way, the other person – whether they realize it or not – has an increased chance of feeling a connection with you if you have found a way to reveal your similarities!

Happy conversating!


*“Relentlessly Practical” is a mantra of C. K. Gunsalus, Director of the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics. I have incorporated this mantra into my own work, and will occasionally offer blog posts with this title.