What defines a successful business encounter (which, by extension, fuels a successful career)? Whether you’re a CEO, a salesperson, an HR manager or just a recent graduate, the success of your career depends on building relationships based on trust and mutual regard. And this starts with a conversation — the kind of conversation that leaves you feeling like you really connected with someone.
We all know the person in the office who is likeable and funny; who remembers little things about us that make us feel special. We like to be around that person because they make us feel comfortable and relaxed. More than that, people with those skills usually have an easier time building consensus around their ideas and moving agendas forward than people who struggle to connect. Why? Because we are more prone to do things to help support the people we like.
If this doesn’t come naturally to you, you aren’t alone. Politicians and world leaders put these skills into action every day. Their secret weapons include a staff and resources that help them prepare for each meeting with constituents and other diplomats. In capitals around the world, you’ll meet people who spend their entire career making sure conversations go well and relationships are strongly built. Although your day-to-day meetings may not have as much on the line, here are some conversational topics that will help you spark what’s possible in your business relationships.
- Shared passions and interests. If you happen to be close enough to the person you’re meeting with to connect with them on Facebook, you’ll likely see them posting photos of their hobbies or their families. If they’re a Twitter or Instagram user with a public account, you may see them posting a picture of a funny thing they saw on the way to work. Successful people use these visual cues to strike up a conversation and connect.
- Work (of course!). Even if you’re not meeting the person in a business context, you’ll probably find yourself talking to them about what they do for a living. Our work says a lot about what we value and hold as important. And since many of us spend more than the typical 40 hours a week at work, it’s a safe bet that there’s a lot going on there that we’d like to share.
- The neighborhood hangout. I’m not a big basketball fan, so I didn’t have a lot to contribute when March Madness dominated office conversations. But I was able to spark a heated debate over whether one Mexican food joint was worth walking an extra three blocks for lunch, or whether we should compromise on the closer taco truck. Talking about your favorite local spot is sure to get the conversation flowing. Everybody has to eat, and everybody has an opinion!
- A favorite team. Like I said, not everyone loves basketball. Picking up on cues from tweets the person made during the game, or after seeing their strategically-placed team banner, is a sure way to get someone chatting about their favorite pastime.
- Mutual acquaintances. It’s worth the few minutes it takes to uncover mutual friends and colleagues before meeting someone for the first time. Talking about how the two of you met and recent encounters is a natural way to ease into a conversation with someone new.
What do these five things have in common? They’re a pretty eclectic mix of conversation topics. But they work no matter the context of your meeting — whether it’s a sales presentation, a team meeting, or a casual encounter with an old colleague. The rise of social media has helped surface relevant information that lets you do more than connect. It builds the conversations that help you actually relate. And that’s a formula for business success.