There’s no question that you can work with people without knowing them. This happens all the time when we join a committee, start a new job, join a charity board, or volunteer with a new organization. We don’t feel familiar, we may be uncomfortable with new people, and we don’t participate for fear of saying something wrong or that we think everyone already knows.
Such environments are poor for collaboration and getting things done. When people don’t know each other, there’s no trust, and without trust, we are reluctant to participate. So how do we get over the hump and enhance comfort and trust? Share Personal Stories.
Sharing personal stories sounds easy, but sometimes people feel uncomfortable talking about what’s going on in their lives.
Years ago I joined a charitable board with a group of strangers in my community. They were good people, but I did not know them at all. Furthermore, we had some difficult financial issues to address, as the organization was operating with limited funds. There were many “behind the scenes” stories that I didn’t know about, particularly regarding the staff. Since I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask, I didn’t inquire about our financial viability that I really wondered about. Our financial position got worse by the month, and finally, I asked to meet with the president of the board. We met for breakfast. We spent some time learning about each other, how we grew up, our work in the community, and our motivation for serving on this charitable board. It was like opening the door to the Land of Oz, going from black and white to full color. Just by knowing someone a bit more, suddenly I felt comfortable engaging in the organization, and I wasn’t afraid to ask the questions that could move us in the direction of addressing our financial issues. It also inspired me to contact the other board members to get to know them as well. It was one of the first times I learned the benefits of sharing personal stories.
Here are a few questions that inspire people to talk:
What was your first job, and what was your path to your current job?
Or, in the same vein, Where did you grow up? (These questions encourage people to tell their origin story, which is always interesting.)
What’s been on your mind lately?
This is a particularly good question when you’re talking with someone and you don’t know if they are working or retired. It’s also a good question to ask at networking events.
What TV shows or movies do you recommend I stream?
Have you listened to any good podcasts recently? (This line of questioning is light and fun, and can lead to interesting conversation about a variety of topics.)
The bottom line is this: Make the effort to get to know the people around you. You’ll be amazed at how your relationships improve, and when you need to get something done together, you’ll be able to get it done better, and faster.