If you sell, you were likely taught to seek common ground with folks. Find it, and find it fast.
Sounds good, right? Here’s how this works in my business life: Since I’m German, lots of strangers initiate conversations with me about Germany. I have listened to many pleasant German travel memories. And I don’t mind these conversations.
Thing is – I have a complex relationship with my county. There are reasons why I don’t live in Germany. Taking me down the German path is not a quick bonding conversation. It’s based on the erroneous assumption that I share your experience of my country!
My colleague Colleen gave me an unintended gift the other day. We had met in Boston for a networking rendezvous. The day after, Colleen asked if I would give her some feedback on how she had “come across” during our meeting. This request led to a wonderful conversation about the personal risks we take in a conversation.
Colleen reminded me of the old dictum – don’t discuss religion or politics. There’s a risk I have started to take only recently: If the conversation steers in the direction of religion, I will actually reveal that I chant and meditate and follow esoteric spiritual practices. It’s been very liberating to admit this. I don’t try to convert you to my practice. I don’t, in fact, believe that my practice is better than yours. It’s just what I do.
Each time I have acknowledged this, I have felt more authentic. And each time a simple admission from me has opened the door to a richer connection. Colleen mentioned that she practices Reiki but is afraid to tell folks because of judgments they may have about something so “off-beat.” I’m glad Colleen took the risk to share her interest with me. It instantly allowed me to view her in a more complex light.
Appropriate boundaries are good, of course. My friend Gina gave a speech at her Toastmasters chapter about her impulse to mutilate male genitalia. That may have been an authentic impulse for Gina. Her audience froze in silent dismay. I learned a lot from working with teenagers in the boroughs of New York City. We’d often end up talking about music. Rarely did my interest in music match theirs. The connecting conversation was never about pretending that we liked the same music. The gift was our willingness to celebrate each other’s divergent tastes.
Be genuinely curious about others. Be genuine about the things you express about yourself. Reveal yourself and celebrate the differences. Connection rarely happens in generic conversations. Connection happens the moment we begin to truly show ourselves.