Be interested, not interesting. That, in a nutshell, is the key to establishing rapport when networking with others.
Being interested, though, is easier said than done. How does one demonstrate genuine interest? Here are some ideas I use:
- Approach the unknown with a sense of adventure. Step into conversations with an expectation of discovery. I anticipate that my questions will lead to hidden treasures.
- Cultivate your curiosity. The more I learn about someone or something, the more I realize how much I actually do not know. That awareness lays the foundation for an ongoing journey fueled by an insatiable curiosity.
- Ask good follow-up questions. It requires little creativity to ask good first questions. We can demonstrate our interest, however, when we follow up with questions that drill deeper. Ask the other person a series of questions beginning with “Why?” and then prompt the person with, “Tell me more.”
- Encourage someone to connect the dots. I invite the other person to help me align separate pieces of information. As we talk, we build upon what we’ve already discussed, connecting the dots through a game of “if/then.” (If _________, then how does that fit with _________?)
- Ask open-ended questions. In the early stages of a conversation, it’s helpful to warm things up by asking “yes or no” questions. We show interest, though, when we move to open-ended questions that require a more thoughtful answer. As we invite others to elaborate and share more, we show a deeper level of interest.
- Reciprocate sharing. Interest is also demonstrated through a volley of shared information. I try to make conversations interactive, sharing my own vulnerability as I invite others to do likewise. The best conversations are two way, relying upon the ebb and flow of interactive communications.
- Express gratitude. I’m always thankful for the newfound knowledge and understanding I gain from others. I always try to find creative ways to thank the other person for being open and transparent. In so doing, I imply my continued interest and I invite additional sharing.
We cannot fake being interested in others. We can, however, develop genuine interest by nurturing our innate curiosity. Being interested is a cultivated mindset, a way of life.