Over local delicacies in Hong Kong last night a friend of mine shared two stories that, while seemingly unrelated, combine to illustrate an important lesson in how we relate to other people.
Early on, over the lemon chicken, my friend told the tale of a trip to Boston, USA in her early twenties. She is in investment banking and had a meeting with a French banker who was her senior in both years and position. She had already presented to a number of other people but approached this meeting with trepidation as the banker clearly wasn't interested in spending too much time, or effort, with her.
Just before my friend launched into the same presentation she had shared with everyone else, she responded to her gut instinct and changed tack. Intead of talking through her products she asked the Frenchman if he had watched the football the previous evening.
Fortunately for her he had, and he was a fan. The World Cup was in full swing and France were doing well, in the days before they automatically self-destructed on reaching the finals of a major tournament.
They spent the next thirty minutes talking about football before the French banker, aware of the time, asked my friend to swiftly share her presentation with him. But he was already sold on her by that point.
As the evening moved on, and we had enjoyed the steamed fish, honey spare ribs and pak choi, we had started talking about education systems around the world. In particular, my friend was sharing with us her experiences of volunteering in a remedial school while on maternity leave.
One child was particularly difficult to engage with and wouldn't pay attention to anything for long, or listen to the teachers in the school. For some reason my friend started talking about cricket and the Pakistan batsman Shahid Afridi, who was doing particularly well at the time.
This problem child suddenly hung on my friend's every word, particularly as she kept him updated with all of the scores from the Test Match Afridi was playing in. She became his favourite teacher and he would apply himself to all of her lessons.
Whatever age, people are the same the world over. If we can engage on common ground first, and win them over, it is so much easier to engage in a wide range of topics. The temptation is often great to talk work with people we meet in a professional situation but, resist it and find out what passions and experiences you share.
In one of my workshops in Vietnam last week, one of the delegates shared a phrase that he had heard that truly resonated with me:
"Reach out with the heart before you ask with the hand."
Find that common ground, engage with people's hearts and you can talk business for as long as you like afterwards
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