It’s been about a year since we’ve started on this journey. It began with meeting 100 random people to expand our social skills. I still clearly remember when we first started and all of the lessons we learned.
One of the problems we have with most self-help material is that, while there are many resources out there that will tell you how to meet new people, they don’t share with you the experience of actually going out there and meeting them. What I’m about to share with you are some lessons that we’ve learned and have been referring back to every day that we go out.
1. YOUR approach determines THEIR response
When you meet someone for the first time, they are always trying to answer the same three questions:
* Who are you?
* What do you want?
* How long are you going to be here?
We’ve found that if you don’t answer these three questions almost immediately, then most people will automatically assume that you’re trying to sell them something, talk to them about Jesus, or recruit them for the military. Once they put their guard up, it becomes infinitely more difficult to actually open them up and have a conversation.
The key here is to be confident in your approach and to try not to come on too strong. It’s easy to get a little too excited in meeting people after you’ve gotten past that initial awkward stage. Jumping in front of them and looking to shake their hand is a surefire way to scare anyone off. Instead, tone it down a bit and try to match their rhythm.
2. It’s OK to let people know what you’re doing
This may sound embarrassing, but you’ll be surprised how well this works!
When we first went out to get over our approach anxiety, I felt a little embarrassed about what we were doing. My biggest fear at the time was being called out and judged since this isn’t the norm in society today. It turns out that this was all in my head and, in fact, people are pretty accepting of you branching out of your comfort zone.
Story time! On the first day we went out, I walked up to this lady sitting in Barnes and Noble to say “Hi”. She kinda glared at me said, “OK, what the hell are you guys doing? I’ve been sitting here for two hours watching you going around saying ‘Hi’ to people. Is this part of some social experiment or something?”
I panicked, I didn’t know what to say after that. I remembered Mitch had told someone earlier about how we are trying to become more outgoing by talking to people and they thought what we were doing was awesome. So I just told her, “Yeah actually! I’m a little shy and I’m trying to branch out of my comfort zone, so I’m going around saying ‘Hi’ to people.”
She completely changed the way she looked at me. “That’s so cool! I wish more people would do that!”
Since then, whenever I felt extremely shy, one of my beginning openers has been, “Hey, I’m a bit shy but I’m trying to branch out of my comfort zone.” Now that I have more confidence, I don’t need it anymore but try it out and see what you think.
3. Your body needs to match your words
Even if they don’t know what it is, people will think you’re hiding something if your body language doesn’t match what you are saying.
People can be very intuitive, especially around strangers. Nervously walking up to someone and trying to sound confident is going to automatically generate mistrust. The same goes for saying that you’re nervous while looking comfortable and relaxed. These are both disconnects because what you’re saying and what your body is saying are two completely different things. It’s confusing and people will feel that you’re trying to trick them.
We’ve found that stating your nervous, when you are nervous, actually makes people a little more open and inviting. Mitch actually found this out when we were first starting out. Whenever he’d wind up talking to a really pretty girl, and butterflies are all over the place; he’d just say, “If I come off weird, it’s because I get nervous around pretty girls”. He even hold out his hand to show her that it’s shaking. Every time, the girl was extremely flattered.
This has also backfired before too. A few times, after gaining a bit more confidence, Mitch has said that he gets nervous in front of pretty girls only to get met with that “Go jump off a bridge” look. This is where we decided that it’s much easier to be open and honest than to try and run some sort of pickup line.
4. Don’t think about it, just go
If you see someone and don’t start walking towards them within about three seconds, it’s highly unlikely that you will ever go up to them. Sitting and thinking about the interaction takes you out of the present moment and gives your mind time to create clever little excuses that will absolutely convince you that you shouldn’t go and meet that person. Almost all of these excuses are complete BS and that this kind of fear can actually be very crippling.
When I first started out, if I even thought about approaching someone for a little less than a second, I’d psych myself out and then it would be all downhill from there. This one time it was so bad, I was actually stuck on a handrail for about 10 minutes before I could move again.
The only thing that I can tell you is that this is something you need to force yourself into. Sorry, no quick fixes here.
5. The important thing is that you said “Hi”
If you approach, you win. That’s all there is to it.
I won’t lie to you, it is a little scary going out and talking to people. Like I mentioned earlier, your mind will come up with all sorts of doomsday scenarios to convince you not to walk up and talk to somebody. Again, it’s all crap! The only way past this way of thinking is through. Keep focused on a single goal, to walk up and introduce yourself. After that, nothing else matters. If it leads to a conversation, great! If you makes someone’s day, awesome! If they tell you to jump off a bridge, who cares! Most of the time, people actually like when somebody comes up and says “Hi” to them during the day. We’ve even approached people with the whole F-off look, and they’ve actually been pretty friendly. Sometimes it’s just “resting bitch face” and they can’t help it.
At the same time, though, you will run into those people who come off a little less than friendly. Most of the time their attitude will have absolutely nothing to do with you, and it’s just that someone pissed in their Cheerios that morning. We’ve have found that this happens very rarely. For us, it’s happened about once or twice in every 20 people that we approached. If and when you come across someone that acts like this, don’t beat yourself up about it, the important thing is that you put yourself out there.
6. Know what motivates you
You will fall… a lot! Don’t let that stop you from getting back up.
Even outside of meeting people, it’s important to understand what motivates you. It’s the driving force that pushes you to achieve your goals, and the thing that will keep you focused in the face of challenges (and yes, you will face a lot of challenges).
For some people, their motivation can come from taking bets with their friends, making a commitment, or even giving themselves the freedom to make mistakes. It took a while for us to figure ours out. It turns out that Mitch is the commitment type and I am the type that needs a specific goal with each approach. What’s been working out for us lately is setting the goal for us to go out and make someone’s day.
7. Build a curiosity in people
Ask yourself what you want to know about who you’re approaching, and lead with that.
A lot of times I’ve found myself asking this familiar question, “What do I say to them?”. After talking to hundreds of people, the answer to this question is pretty simple. The trick is to build a curiosity in people and notice something unique about them. If you love people watching, you’re going to enjoy this.
When you see someone that you want to approach, look for things that we call tokens. A token is basically anything that sticks out and represents who that person is, where they’re from, where they’re going, what they enjoy, etc. For example, a band t-shirt is a pretty good indicator of the kind of music that they’re interested in. An even better example would be tattoos. Tattoos are an easy opener because they’re an expression of who that person is, literally on their sleeve.
Accents, dyed hair, a ring or necklace, shoes, or even commenting on your surroundings; these are easy conversation starters. Once you’ve found a token, point it out. It’ll make the person feel noticed and giving a genuine compliment on top of that will make them feel that much more special. Noticing tokens can even lead to a deeper conversation. You’d be surprised how many times asking people with dyed hair, why they dyed their hair, has gotten us into hour long conversations.
8. Approaching random people will feel weird at first
“The best speakers know enough to be scared… The only difference between the pros and the novices is that the pros have trained the butterflies to fly in formation.” – Edward R. Murrow.
The first few times we went out, we’d agree on the same thing at the end of every day, “This is by far the weirdest thing I’ve ever done, but I like it!”. To be honest, the feeling has never really gone away either, we’ve just gotten used to it. It’s a lot like working out, once you stop approaching people for a while, that feeling will come back just as strong and then you’ll have to get used to it all over again.
Even on a daily basis, you need to get past the initial awkwardness. The first few approaches of the day are almost always going to be awkward, but you bounce back really fast. We usually like to do about five warm up approaches before we start to focus on having conversations with people. The easiest way to warm up is to try and strike up a conversation with people that you see through your day. The next time you’re in line at the grocery store, try talking to the person standing next to you or to the cashier. Again, the only thing that matters is that you keep striving forward