August 14, 2011

Appreciation Marketing – Starting a Conversation with a Stranger

After adding last week’s blog posting, I was asked to explain how to start a conversation with a stranger.  For this purpose, a stranger would be anyone whom we meet in the course of our day’s activities but not in the arena of networking events.  These strangers would not be anyone whom we meet at an event where this type of conversations would be expected.

Someone told me that they didn’t know where to go to meet people, and I asked where they went each and everyday.  Do you go shopping, do you buy gas, do you go to the mechanic, and do you go to coffee shops?  These are public places where people are.  When asked why they rob banks, bank robbers say because that’s where the money is.  Go where the people are.

These strangers would be those people whom we meet in coffee shops, on the sidewalk, at a grocery store, across the island at a gasoline station, in line at the office supply store, or anywhere else where we may not be looking for anyone with whom to chat.  They are right in front of us, everyday and everywhere.

So how do you start a conversation with these strangers, without being considered pushy or infringing upon the space or time of others?  First, look for the signs; look for something that you can compliment; look for the signs that the other person may welcome conversation.  Also, look for the signs that they may not welcome interruption.

Are they speaking with someone else, perhaps on the phone (look for the Bluetooth headset on the person who is talking to themselves)?  Are they listening to headphones or writing or working on their laptop?  Is there something that you would like to ask them about: their laptop brand, their dog, their coat, their hat, whatever they might consider special?

I once had a 20 minute conversation on a sidewalk with a man walking 2 dogs.  I have had 2 other conversations with him on subsequent occasions, and I know that his dogs like to be scratched on their heads and spoken to in soft terms.  We have not exchanged names yet, but this is great practice for other conversations.  I have had many chats that are similar.

Do not look upon every stranger as a potential prospect or client.  Just chat with people and get to know them.  Try a smile and a simple hello.  Ask about something that appears to interest them or something that they have.  Maybe you have similar taste in clothes; maybe you own different laptops; maybe you both were stood up by an appointment in the same coffee shop.  Instead of yelling at someone who bumps into your grocery cart, say hello and laugh about it.

You will often meet someone who doesn’t want to chat.  That’s fine; perhaps apologize and move on with a smile.  If you meet them again sometime, be pleasant and see what happens.  Compliment them on something and see if they open up.  Maybe they won’t now, but maybe they will at another time.  Some people don’t warm up to strangers easily; do you?

You will receive the same treatment that you project.  If you are warm, welcoming, and open to strangers’ conversations, you will receive the same treatment in return.  This is karma; you get back what you project, good or bad.  If you are not getting warm receptions to your overtures to converse, look at what you are projecting.

Last week’s blog posting resulted in lots of feedback.  Leave your comments about your thoughts, or email me at, or call me at 360-314-8691.  I’ll be glad to listen to what you have to say.

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