Making Strangers Into Friends

Making Strangers Into Friends

Yesterday, I enjoyed a lovely lunch. 65 degrees and sunny. My friend, my daughters, and I ate outside to soak up the sun.

Midway through our lunch, a woman dining alone sat down at the table next to us. We continued our conversation for awhile, and then she joined in to add her thoughts.

Apparently, as we talked, she found herself identifying with every topic we discussed. Finally, she decided to join our fun.

On both the surface level topics of our conversation (furniture shopping, flea markets) and the deeper stuff of life (relationships, spirituality), we found common interests and values. I left the table with the phone number of this new stranger-turned-friend.

Here’s the lunch lesson: It’s always possible to find common ground with others.

In the last post, I wrote about our tendency to want to stay in groups of people we perceive to be like us. The truth is, we all have more in common than we think.

If we are willing to take the time to get to know others, we may soon find ways to relate to others. We can start by finding common interests or values. As our common interests draw us together, our difference may seem less important.

First, discover and concentrate on common interests. If you are working with a diverse team, take time to get to know your team members as individuals. You obviously have one common interest and goal already: whatever work project has brought you together. Beyond that, look for other connecting points. Share some of your interests and values and ask good questions to get to know the unique hobbies, likes, and dislikes of your team members.

Next, recognize differences and look for ways to use them to strengthen your team. I’m an extrovert. You gain energy from time spent alone. I am forgetful and big picture oriented. You keep meticulous and detailed notes and refer to them frequently to stay on top of deadlines. Instead of labeling differences as right or wrong, appreciate people for who they are and find ways to maximize their strengths.

Consider finding similarities with others an intellectual challenge. Think of a colleague or team member who is superficially most unlike you. Choose a person that you know or assume is different from you in other ways as well. Take some time to get to know that individual. As you do, see how many similar attitudes, values, or interests you share. Make a list. This exercise will be good practice for finding common ground with others.

Remember the lunch lesson, and you may soon find that you can work much more effectively — or even make friends —with those colleagues you assumed were strangers.

Join the conversation!

What other ideas do you have about finding common ground with others?

Do you agree with me that we have more in common than we think?

Did you try my intellectual experiment? If so, what did you discover?

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission. 

Filed As:  Connections, LeaderTalk

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • Great observation Becky. I also thought…wow, this could be a great post about RISK TAKING. How many of us would have taken the risk of joining someone else’s conversation? Yet look at what a terrific outcome it had. Was she rude or was she courageous? I’m choosing courage.

  • Definitely courageous, not rude at all! I am very grateful that she spoke up, since I always enjoy connecting with people and am even more open to new friends since we moved to this area just weeks ago. I think the idea of her joining the conversation is similar to @moneday’s recent post that encouraged people to treat people like you already know them Check it out!

  • Your advice to “discover and concentrate on common interests” is insightful and helpful. It’s the perfect place to start, both with new friends and with your team members. The odds are good (I’ve been teaching this for over 25 years) that you have something in common with everyone who will ever work for you.
    You will share a passion for youth soccer with one person. Another, like you, will be an avid golfer. Perhaps you both lived once in Madison or Mobile. You might love the poetry of Hart Crane. Whatever it is can be the starting point for the kind of conversations that make life at work rich and make it easier to discuss other, more difficult issues.

  • Just LOVED this post Becky! As always, you are SPOT ON! We naturally focus on the differences as a way of protecting ourself from hurt and dissapointment, but – especially as leaders – it pays to will ourselves to focus on what counts: the ways in which we may connect. Lets get our interest in others spiked and follow the road of possibility instead of the one of fear. And by the way, thanks for linking to my blog in your comment! 🙂

  • Great post on this subject. I believe people are more inclined to promote their own self interests and beliefs. However, in their attempts two things can occur. The conversation is a mere exchange of words with no retention, or it develops into understanding as it did in your situation. Too often we try to excercise our beliefs over others and in doing so, we fail to listen with understanding. Dr. Covey stated it best, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” We may find our preconceived notions to be just that. Perhaps if we just listen, we can find that common interest and bond in everyone we meet.

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