Everyone is entitled to your opinion
Tom Salinsky writes...
A networking event is many people’s idea of hell. Chatting to people you know and like is great, and if you are thrust together with like-minded people – on a group outing say, or at a new club for the first time – people will be grateful if you can break the ice.
But a work-related event where swapping personal details in the hope of gaining a future commercial advantage is the stated aim of the meeting – that’s a minefield of social faux-pas just waiting for you to blunder into them. All of our usual anxieties about being “on show” are magnified. Should we try and talk to the loner? No, must be some reason no-one else wants to engage them in conversation? Shall I try and break into that fun-looking group? No, then I’ll be the one who spoils their fun. Wait, there’s someone I know. Great! But I can’t spend the whole evening talking to people I know – that defeats the purpose.
Finally, you get talking to someone and you feel you need to hold up your end of the conversation. “Do you come to a lot of these things?” you ask, hopefully. “A few,” comes the reply. “Were you at the workshop on the future of Europe?” you try. “Yes, I was.” “Did you get much out of it?” “Most of it I had heard before.” “What do you think you’ll go to this afternoon?” “I haven’t decided yet.”
Gah! It’s like pulling teeth. Why is this so hard? With your friends, it’s so much easier. One reason is that with your friends, you can be much more playful and teasing, but it’s hard to do that with a complete stranger. What else is going wrong here? Well, you’re asking questions instead of talking about yourself – and that’s good, right? You’re not getting shut down but the answers don’t seem to be leading anywhere except another question. If you aren’t careful you’re going to end up interrogating this poor person. “What do you think you will go to this afternoon? Think harder! Decide now!!”
What’s missing from this interaction is your opinions! It isn’t enough to ask a couple of questions and expect that the other person will take it from there. They might – you might strike conversational gold at your first try! – but if you don’t, you need to keep going on this topic and add opinions of your own. Don’t worry about whether they are the “right” opinions or not, just have your say.
“Were you at the workshop on the future of Europe?” you ask. “Yes I was,” comes the reply and it doesn’t look like any more is forthcoming. Rather than asking another question, just give your opinion straight away. “I’m not sure I agree with that analysis at all. We’re getting very different numbers out of Spain and Greece in particular.” “I know what you mean. I would have out Spain at half that.” “Half? I was going to say double…”
And you’re off and running. If you agree, you can gang up. If you disagree, you can have an enjoyable debate. Then find somebody new to talk to and do it all again…