How many times a day does someone ask you how you are? You know what I mean. You are walking down the hall in the office and someone says. "Hi, how are you?" Or, you meet someone at a luncheon and as they approach with their hand extended, the first thing they say is, "Hey, how have you been?"
It is pretty standard practice, on the one hand, and even more standard on the other when we give answers like...good, fine and every once in a while, just for a little variety, a great or excellent! You are laughing in this moment, because you know exactly what I am talking about. We all do it, each and every day.
So what is that all about? Do we really all want to know how each other is doing, or is it something else?
Sometimes I think it would be great, if those cartoon bubbles would simply pop up over people's heads to tell us the real story. You know the one that would pop up with the words, "Hi, I noticed you walking towards me and it would be great to connect, but in this moment I have no idea what we would talk about, so if I ask you how you are doing, maybe you will provide an answer that will make this talking thing a whole lot easier!"
So, how do you break this cycle? Especially when you are in a situation where you would like to build your network, with people you don't know. The simple answer is, be prepared to share.
In order to start any conversation there needs to be a starting off point. When you approach someone and already have a topic, it is generally a lot easier to get things going. You do this all the time. When you walk over to another parent, at one of the games both your children are playing at, you might start off by talking about the game, or about an upcoming sporting event. Same thing, if you are at work. You have a question for a colleague and you simply just get into the conversation. You have commonality, so it is easier to talk.
When you are going into a networking situation, you need to help establish a starting point. A safe point where the other person can get involved and feels comfortable to share as well. So to do this, you can help by broadening the topic base in your intital answer. For example, "Hi, how are you?" Answer, "I am having a great day. Last week, I got home from being away on vacation and it feels good to get back into a little routine." or "I'm good. This morning I decided to drop by that little café on the corner to grab a coffee and ran into an old friend. It was a wonderful surprise."
These types of responses, provide for numerous jump off points for a conversation. The other person could ask about your vacation. They could share something on getting back to a routine. They could comment on the café or share their favorite coffee place. They could tell you about running to one of their friends. Conversation is about trying to build connections and the more you share the more they do as well.
If you want to build your network, you have to be prepared to share yourself. You have to let down your walls a bit. Prior to going to a network event, think about a couple of things you could share. Have you read a good book? Did you go to a interesting event? Are you working on a new project? Are you planning a great vacation? Keep the topics simple and broad in nature so the other person can find an entry point.
At first it might seem a little awkward, but remember the more you do something the easier it becomes. If you want to build that network, push through and let them get to know you. Before long, you will get to know them, as well!