“Become genuinely interested in other people”

It’s been repeated to the point of being cliché. In fact, this was in Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People as one of his “Six Ways to Make People Like You”. While this is pretty solid advice, and one of the best ways to build rapport, it’s missing a crucial element. They don’t tell you HOW to build that genuine interest or how to maintain it.

But What if I’m Not Interested in Them?

This is something that I used to struggle with constantly. We started this project with approaching one hundred random strangers. At first, the prospect of building my social skills was what motivated me to push past my fears and talk to people. However, after talking to hundreds of people, I had run into another barrier. There were many times where I was about to approach somebody but then found myself asking the same question, “What’s the point? Why am I doing this?”. I used to approach everyone that I was curious about, but after so many people it was hard to stay curious.

I went through several books and other resources to try and find an answer, but nobody talked about it. Surely I couldn’t be the only one who’s experienced this? So I spent a week talking to at least 12 people a day (a little over 60 people over the course of 5 days) just to try and figure out how to get past this; and I’ve finally found a solution. To be genuinely interested in the person you’re talking to, you need to know what kind of relationship you want with that person in the first place.

Why It’s So Imporant

Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says, “Begin with the end in mind”; and I couldn’t agree more. Anytime you’re trying to build a connection with someone, you are both trying to ultimately grow from that experience; no matter how long or how short of a time that may be. That is the definition of a relationship, that is your purpose. It’s very important to know this because when you go in blind (in other words you don’t know why you’re talking to this person), you may or may not be interested in who they are or what they have to say. People can very easily pickup on this subconsciously. On the other hand, knowing your purpose for, and the, relationship you want to have with that other person will actively make you more patient during the slower parts of conversations so that you can have and maintain a genuine interest in that other person.

Try it out! The next time you go out, decide on and try to build a connection with someone. Figure out what relationship you want to have with them, no matter how fleeting, before you approach. See if that doesn’t make things easier for you.

Have you ever been afraid of walking over and striking up a conversation with a girl you’ve never met before? It’s easy, just go over and say “Hi”. You know what to do, but it feels impossible. Why?

This kind of social fear usually comes from being in the wrong state of mind, and is an issue that is all too common among guys. But what if I told you that you can take control of this fear and not let it have any more power over you? By state shifting, you can!

Understanding State

First, what is a state? A state is the psychological and emotional filer that you use to focus and make decisions. Believe it or not, your state is fluid and ever changing, and usually depends on what you are spending most of your time doing. However, you also have a “default” state that you automatically switch to, based on what you do in your daily life. For example, if you’re used to being analytical and solving problems every day, then this will likely become your default state. This is why engineers stereotypically have issues being social and playful, but they are great at problem solving. Likewise, people who work in sales, and deal with people on a regular basis, stereotypically have no problem talking to people. Basically, the less time you spend your time in a social mindset, the more important it is to take the time to shift into that social state.

Shifting State

The only way to shift from your default state into a more light and playful state is by regularly interacting with people. Now that might sound scary at first, but there are really simple techniques you can use to slowly dip your toes in before having full on conversations with anyone. It’ll also give you the opportunity to open up a little bit and have fun while you’re out. Here are two of the techniques that we use.

Give a Genuine Compliment

  • The first state shifting technique is to make people’s day by giving them a short, genuine compliment. As you are out walking around, look for people who stand out in a positive way. This could be something they are wearing or something that they are doing really well. Then, walk up to them, smile, give the compliment, and walk away. It’s as simple as that! Now, keep in mind that your compliment needs to be specific. Saying “Your cute” doesn’t mean anything to anyone, however, saying “That shirt looks good on you” carries a bit more weight.

Ask a Genuine Question

  • The second state shifting technique is to ask a genuine question. When starting out, your question can be as general as asking for directions; however, once you’re used to that, you should make them more specific to something that you want to know about that person. For example, if I see a girl with dyed hair, I usually ask what made them want to dye their hair that color.

When practicing these techniques, the only thing you should be focusing on is shifting your state. It might feel weird at first, but that is all the more reason why you needed to do this in the first place. Just keep in mind that the more you practice getting into state, the easier it becomes and the faster you’ll be able to shift into it again.

Once you’re in state, it’s important to stay in state. Don’t look at your phone or sit down. These can easily shift your focus and you may have to start all over again to get back to where you were. Always be looking for opportunities to go up to someone, even if you’re taking a break from talking to people.

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

Approach immediately!

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