Three months after moving to Las Vegas, I was a defeated front desk clerk ready to surrender and move back east. I hadn’t made a single friend, and with no family nearby, it made for a lonely and repetitive existence.
But a chance meeting with one of the hotshots at the resort saved me. He demonstrated his principle for connecting with people, one that also suited my quiet and introverted nature. He spotted me during lunch one day and sat at my table, remembering me from a meeting where we bonded over our common hometown roots.
After a few routine questions, he asked pointedly, “Have you made any friends yet?”
I said nothing, which told him everything.
He continued. “I thought so. Come back to my office.” He promised to share a few tips. I was desperate. He was popular, well-liked, and successful. With a half-hour to go on my break, I agreed.
As we hustled through the bustling lobby, swatting away cigarette smoke, we stopped between a bank of ringing slot machines. He got the attention of a casino host and asked if she’d be interested in joining an after-work leadership club — a small group limited to personal invite-only.
“I’d meant to do that for the longest time,” he said to me as we left.
On the way to his office, we detoured to a restaurant where he flagged down a golf buddy. My angst dialed up a notch as my break time dwindled.
He asked his friend to co-organize an outing of a dozen people to cultivate new contacts with local business leaders. They gabbed for a few minutes, my annoyance peaking. My break was nearly over, and all I did was trail this dude on his quest to fill his social calendar.
Finally, we arrived at his office. Ten minutes to go on my break. He stopped and chatted with a peer, offering an introduction to his university contact. I learned his peer wanted to teach a class to bolster his resume, as if I was supposed to give a shit.
By now, my teeth were grinding behind a phony smile plastered on my face. “I only have a few minutes.”
“Get your ass back to work,” he said. “I got nothing else to show you.” I must have looked discouraged, so he explained. “Be the selfless connector, the one who facilitates connections between other people. Do that, and you’ll never struggle with making friends.”
It was only then that I realized the things he did to fill his calendar were also demonstrations for my benefit. My stint in Las Vegas ended a year later, but I did make friends while there. More importantly, as a quiet introvert, his advice about facilitating connections between others instead of trying to connect with people directly still serves me well.
How to Connect With People
My mentor demonstrated three strategies to connect with people by facilitating connections with others. You can apply them in person or virtually.
1. Become the captain of your own crew
Forming a mastermind group is ideal for quiet people. You’re the captain of a tight crew, and you control the membership. As the founder, you’re not the leader. You’re the facilitator — the one who brings people together, sets the guidelines, and keeps everyone on track. As I learned when I started one, when it works, it almost runs itself.
Follow these three guidelines when starting your group:
- Be careful about who you choose to invite. One downer can drag everyone else into negativity. Conversely, a crowd of blue sky dreamers will blind you to reality.
- Surround yourself with people of varying backgrounds who are on the same mission as you.
- Include people on different legs of their journey (from competent to world-class).
- Put together a script stating your reason for starting the group and the kind of person you’re looking to join, and what you expect if they agree.
- Recall how my mentor sold his group by stating it was small and open by personal invite-only. Exclusivity is one of the selling points of mastermind groups. Between five and ten is a good number to start.
2. Collaborate on mutually beneficial activities
My mentor had asked someone to help him co-organize a golf outing. Normally, that would sound like an added responsibility, and few people would find it appealing. But they’ll find it enticing when there’s a compelling benefit.
Collaborating with people — especially in a social setting — is one of the most effective ways to create a shared experience, the backbone of connection. When there’s also an opportunity for personal gain, collaboration becomes a sought after experience.
Even in a virtual world, a multitude of options exist. You can collaborate on a virtual hangout, producing a piece of art, or planning a community campaign. Use your imagination. Some tips to get you started:
- When you ask someone to help organize, sell the benefit, and see if they want to help, but don’t be pushy.
- Agree on the goals. I’ve organized events where the co-host used the event to advance a personal goal that conflicted with my intention of a social gathering of like-minded people.
- According to a story in The Atlantic, mundane experiences do a better job of bringing people together than adventurous ones. Opt for a picnic instead of skydiving.
3. Become a facilitator in chief
Years ago, I attended organized networking events. If you’ve ever been to one, you know what it’s like. A bunch of desperate guys sheepishly exchange business cards and beg each other for business. When you leave, it feels like you were trapped in a stuffy attic that hadn’t been opened in years.
Successful people don’t bother with networking events, but they know how to facilitate connections between two people. For the quiet ones, facilitation is the ideal path. All you do is make the appropriate introduction and step back. It sounds hard, but if you follow these tips, you’ll quickly get the hang of it.
- People will rarely approach you with an explicit request, so pay attention to what’s not said. Ask probing questions to figure out their needs.
- Follow bestselling author Lewis Howe’s advice, “the moment you identify a way to help someone, take action.” Too often, we wait and forget, squandering the opportunity.
- Introduce people only when two conditions are met: the possibility of mutual benefit and explicit permission from both parties.
When my mentor offered to connect his peer to a university contact, he did so because he had previously learned his peer wanted to enhance his resume. Separately, he discovered his university contact was looking for industry professionals to guest lecture. Mutual benefit. Mutual permission.
When you facilitate connections consistently, you become someone people want to know. When it works, they remember you as the one who made that introduction. From then on, they’ll do the hard work of connecting with you.
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