My parents always told me to never talk to strangers when I was growing up, and now I tell my 5-year-old daughter the same thing. It’s good advice for kids but now that I’m all grown, I take the opposite approach. Now, I love talking to strangers – and for multiple reasons.
The obvious reason is because I’m in sales and you never know when a conversation with someone will lead to a new opportunity.
But if your main goal in striking up conversations with people is to find opportunities for yourself, it will be pretty transparent and you’ll notice a rather quick exit to the conversation on the other end as soon as they figure it out. My main goal for talking to random people is practice.
I love sales because it’s one of the only professions in the world that you can practice everywhere you go. By having that as a mindset, you can look at each person sitting next to you at a bar or standing next to you in an elevator as an opportunity for you to practice your craft.
I don’t mean practicing your sales pitch. I mean practicing things like how to approach people, what questions get the best responses, active listening and making sure you’re clear on what they are saying. These are all things that we can pay attention to and get better at by talking to strangers.
What I’ve been practicing recently is how far I can push my opinions without offending anyone. I almost never talk to anyone about politics or religion – except for strangers. You know why? Because with strangers, it doesn’t matter. I can get as heated or as passionate as I want, and they will most likely be out of my life in less than 15 minutes. This gives me an opportunity to practice how I shape my arguments or thoughts as I try to get my points across. It also helps me read people and try to understand how different personality traits lend themselves to different levels of, shall we say, directness.
I’ve definitely pushed it too far and offended more than a few people in my life because I misread them or the situation. However, each one of those was a lesson that helped me get better at figuring out where the line is between being direct and being rude. In Sales, I think we need to go right up to that line without going over. It’s kind of like the line between ego and confidence. It’s a fine line but a huge difference.
Next time you’re sitting next to someone and have some time to kill, practice engaging with them and see what happens. Make sure you pay attention to what’s working and what’s not so you can transfer that to help make you some money when it counts. Make it happen.