Talk to Strangers: How Everyday, Random Encounters Can Expand Your Business, Career, Income, and Life
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Q&A with David Topus, Author of Talk To Strangers
1. We all know people who, especially when they get on an airplane, just want to be left alone, maybe to work, maybe to sleep; some people just really don't want to be bothered no matter where they are. Aren't there times where it would be offensive to try to talk to them?
My operating assumption is that most people are available for conversation; that most people actually enjoy talking to others. Yet there are times for all of us when we just don't want to. As a random connector, we have to be sensititve to this and respect it. When someone sits down on an airplane, put on blindfolds, headphones, and covers themselves with a blanket, it's a pretty good indication that they're not available for interaction. Likewise, when someone sits at the table in the coffeehouse that is off in the corner, and positions themselves in a way that isn't easily accessible, they probably aren't either.
2. How do you avoid coming across as manipulative; in other words, in ways that people don't think you're just trying to "get" something from them?
A successful random connection is never "one way"; there is always value exchanged. If you meet someone and discover that they have a job opening about which they are interested in talking to you, then you presumably will be a good contributor to their company. Likewise, if you are selling something and the person you just met is interested in buying, they will be getting something in the exchange, and therefore it will be a win-win. The third and fourth principle of successful random connectors are, respectively, that everyone you meet can enhance your life in some way, and that you can enhance the life of everyone you meet as well.
3.What was the biggest surprise you ever had in approaching a stranger?
I once met someone at a restaurant where I would go frequently for lunch. Sitting at the counter would often be a guy about my age who would show up unshaven and in cut offs. Frankly, he looked like he was out of work and maybe having a hard time. After seeing him on a number of accassions I decided to engage him in conversation. Turned out he was (and still is) a senior recruiter for one of the largest consulting companies in the world. He just happened to work from home a lot and didn't need to dress up during the day.
4.What should one do if they strike up a conversation with someone who turns out be a real bore - or worse yet, ends up next to someone on a long flight who has nothing to offer?
It's unusual to end up with someone who has NOTHING to offer, if just some new information or even a pleasant conversation. But in those rare cases, there's nothing you can do except find someone else nearby who might have more to offer.
5. What was the most successful random encounter or connection you ever made?
I've had many that have monetized into large business engagements of one type or another. Too many to list. But among them, I once had a duplicate seat assignment on a flight where the person who had the same seat as I did ended up making a six-figure investment in my company. I met someone once who hired me to turnaround his sales and marketing department. Recently, I met someone who brought me into a six-figure consulting engagement. Not long ago I met someone in a coffee shop who joined my team and became a top producer. And just the other day, I met someone who runs sales strategy for a global hotel chain who has a need for my services. I am in the process of cultivating that relationship.
6. Have you ever been fooled by someone who purported to be someone they weren't, and you found out later?
Well, yes, but not later - I found out on the spot! He told me he was a dog trainer for the government, training dogs to sniff bombs and drugs, and that he was on his way to examine and buy some dogs to train. When the flight got rerouted due to weather problems, I found out he was really a sky marshall. The dog trainer story was his "front". That was a shocker. He really had me fooled!
7. Are there differences in random connecting between men and women, women and men, etc -- things each gender should keep in mind when random connecting?
Yes. Women need to remember that men tend to think logically, and men need to keep in mind that women tend to think intuitively. Consider the home buying couple -- generally the man wants to check out the basement and the garage; the woman wants to check out the garden and the kitchen. It's just how we're hard-wired. So if you want to connect with the other sex and get on their wavelength, communicate in ways that will resonate with the other party. And in both cases, when it comes to random connecting, keep the flirting out. At least at the beginning of the exchange.