I like watching people meet each other for the first time. In the moment after the introduction, there’s always a ‘sizing up’ that takes place. You can see it as each person examines the other, wondering how much they have in common, what the other person thinks of them, and how much or how little to share of themselves.
One friend tells me that she adjusts herself to the new person’s perceived expectations. ‘I want them to like me, so I’ll try to share only what I think will interest them. You know; kind of tailor my conversation to match what they seem to be into.’
I can understand that. We tend to feel our chances of making friends or getting along with others will increase if we’re ‘what they want’ and are able to fit in. Perhaps this feeling goes right back to the playground; not wanting to be that lonely kid by themselves on the swing.
But over the last few years I’ve been changing my approach a little. Rather than trying to quickly pull a chameleon and be what I hope the person in front of me is expecting or comfortable with, I’ll just be open. I’ve played the careful dance back and forth of selective information sharing before, and it’s boring, inauthentic, and makes building rapport a slow process.
I find the open-book approach refreshing and effective. As I share of myself, others feel that they have permission to open up too. I’m not advocating giving all your personal stories and experiences in great detail to someone you’ve just met, you still have to use some common sense; but I think most of the time we err too much on the side of secrecy, pointless small talk, facades, hypocrisy and a closed-off attitude that says, ‘You give first and I’ll possibly consider handing back a morsel of information in exchange.’
Openness wins me friends, clients, business partners, opportunities, and most of all; the personal feeling of confidence and authenticity that comes from having nothing to hide.
So next time you’re doing that awkward, we’ve-just-met-dance, why not try to: