Finding commonalities and common ground--Fast!
May 31, 2009
Thanks for the great response to my last couple of posts. Appreciate the tweets, links to other sites, and the curious level of interest from Australia! G'Day mates!
All of us have stories about discovering amazing things we have in common with people we just met or have known for a long time. You find out that you both went to the same high school, share a hobby, your parents know each other, you have a close friend in common.... A moment that reinforces how increasingly small the world is. What if we could figure out those connections sooner? Knowing how our worlds overlap and intersect will only expedite the relationship and ultimately the trust between the parties.
Do you believe in the theory of 6 degrees of separation ?The idea that you and I are separated by no more than 6 people or 6 connections? As an aside there have been and continue to be experiments that go back many years to prove and attempt to quantify this interconnectedness. Stanley Milgram's experiment and many others have shown that we are all separated by 5 to 6 connections and that's where the number 6 came from. Much of this work has been criticized and disputed. Nevertheless, Milgram's experiment was well before e-mail, the web, and social networking. So I would argue that we are measurably closer and more interconnected. My experience has shown me over and over that the theory of 6 degrees or less is true. I have learned that we are all connected and that we have so much in common. I don't mean only in the Buddhist, atomic material, we are the world ways. Regardless what we look like are our backgrounds, we have so many common bonds and connections that are often undiscovered. Sometimes, they seem to appear magically and serendipitously and we marvel at their existence. I am going to advocate here that if we are more intentional about discovering our commonalities, we will appreciate their existence and certainty of finding them.
While this is a process you can use in meeting new people, it is also very valuable in interacting with people you think you know well. As I have said over and over, "It is amazing who you know who you don't know."
A conscious goal you should have in every conversation (not the sole goal nor the dominant one) is finding commonalities, including common human connections. In other words, the 6 degrees concept applies to people but also to interests and experiences.
A few tips on discovering commonalities
- Preparation and research: Google every person you know you are going to meet or think you might meet, especially senior executives. Learn what might be common areas of interest in advance.
- Listen and pay attention: If you listen and look for common grounds, they will seem omnipresent. When you hear someone, even a perfect stranger, talking about your alma mater, your favorite restaurant, your hobby, your employer--you have the chance to explore than common ground. If you see someone who has the book you are reading, a product you want or just bought, a luggage tag of your favorite sports team--then you have a means to discuss commonalities.
- Lead with your interests and passions: How you introduce yourself and talk about yourself matters. If you integrate facts and interests into your spiel about yourself your BIT , then you create opportunities to connect. After the "What do you do?" or "Tell me about yourself." query, you tell your story. I might say, "I was raised up north and then came down here to go to UCLA. I work for the California Community Foundation and have three kids." Four points of interest and potential commonalities.
- The context is a common ground: Where you are meeting, your surroundings, the purpose of your connection are all reference points. Your curiosity drives you. Why did you attend this conference? How did you get into this business? There is a reason why both of you find yourself at this unique place and time.
- Commonality questions: As part of a larger conversation, you can ask, "Do you have kids?" (because you do). "Where did you go to school?" (alma maters, college sports, majors)"Where do you live?" (local restaurants, neighbors) "What were you doing before this?" (colleagues at employers, current events)"What do you do when you are not working?" (hobbies, kids activities) Typical questions that are now slightly influenced by your commonalities. The answers trigger additional questions and potential connections.
With the intention of finding how we are connected and what we share, you will discover commonalities much faster. While using this strategy, please do not turn into Dan Rather and pummel your conversation partner with a series of set questions. Let the conversation happen, but keep an eye on the hints of commonalities. Once you do, you too will be convinced that the world and your anxiety over networking are shrinking. Kevin Bacon and your confidence in connecting faster are not very far away.