I attended a Texas Young Professional San Antonio meetup the other day.
I’ve been to dozens of these things in various cities and settings. It’s crucial to network, even when the long days drag and drain the enthusiasm out of me. Just like exercising or church or any sort of event with a bit of an anticipatory buildup, the initial resistance met while considering my attendance went away when I rolled in, smiled and started chatting with everybody.
I’m surprised at how basic the approaches are at these meet ups. At parties or other gatherings, people usually dally about in conversation before asking what one does or how long one has been out of school–it’s a sort of graceful way of examining the other person. But at meet ups like this, it’s usually the first words that tumble out of peoples’ mouths, “Where do you work? Where did you go to school?”
It’s akin to speed dating, which is fine. There’s not much time to prance around. And some people do attend to make meaningful business connections. Might as well zero in and focus.
But I noticed a few people who are still quite a bit awful at conversation. I mean flatly awful. It’s usually guys (sorry guys)–especially guys who might be trying to flirt. It’s funny to see the women squirm and shift uncomfortably as dude launches in to another one-up anecdote that will no doubt take five minutes to get through.
“Funny” in that it’s unfortunate. And it’s hardly most people.
When learning to be a journalist (and later when learning to be a manager), they would teach you about active listening. They would teach you about building rapport–about showing interest and allowing others to feel their opinion mattered to you, then coaxing that opinion out and holding it in actual regard before steamrolling in to the conversation with your own opinion. They taught you that this was a way to take yourself out of the center of the universe–that, as a journalist, the world wasn’t waiting to hear from you, it was actually wanting to hear from the person you were interviewing.
It’s a crucial difference–this selflessness in conversation (even feigned selflessness to a point). I wish more people would recognize how they can actually further themselves by not furthering themselves. Be someone who can chat with others, learn about others, cultivate a genuine curiosity about others. Some of these terrible conversationalists might find more attention from the very people they are pursuing by NOT bloviating at every turn.