When networking, don’t bother asking ‘how are you?’

When we meet people for the first time, the easiest way to communicate is with small talk but some networking experts believe asking ‘how are you?’ or ‘what do you do?’ is a wasted opportunity.

Banal small talk

When you ask someone ‘how are you’ do you really want to know the answer? Or will the person responding actually tell the truth? Really we’re just looking to initiate small talk and we might succeed but what follows is a fairly meaningless exchange. There’s also a tendency for people to resort to the obvious – the weather, traffic, and so on.

Dig a little deeper

But according to Harvard researchers, who analysed more than 300 online conversations, people who are asked more meaningful questions found the other person much more likeable – and when it comes to networking that’s no bad thing. “When people are instructed to ask more questions, they are perceived as higher in responsiveness, an interpersonal construct that captures listening, understanding, validation and care,” the researchers wrote.

Open your eyes and observe

Of course, coming up with engaging icebreakers is easier said than done. One tip is to ‘open your eyes’ before you open your mouth. Find something to focus on in your surroundings. Is there a historic or cultural element to the building? Or perhaps you can start a conversation about a new innovative trend that’s likely to have everyone excited.

Tone of voice

When the time comes, you can eventually segue into talking about your business plans or professional goals, while remembering to be curious and ask others about their own projects. Remember no matter what or how much you say, your tone of voice, facial expression and eye contact will ‘speak volumes’. Don’t forget to get some cross-cultural tips to help you effectively interact with locals.

Everyone is of interest

Also, when meeting fellow expats, it’s an obvious icebreaker to ask: “So how long have you been here?” But this can often cause a disconnect between two people, for example, if one is a ‘newbie’ and the other an ‘old hand’. The newbie might suddenly feel embarrassed, believing they have no insights worth sharing. The veteran might also be dismissive of the newbie, which, of course, would be a mistake. The new arrival might be the one bringing the next big innovative idea to town. Remember: everyone is of interest and everyone has a story to share.

This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe. It is reproduced here in its original form.

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