Monday, April 13, 2009

Common Points of Reference

How do I uncover common points of reference to build a relationship?”

I get asked this a lot. No one ever asks this in relation to building a friendship, but when it comes to work-related interaction, folks get weirded out.

The pressure to connect faster in a professional setting is bizarre, but it’s there. Those reference points do allow us to relax with each other and that’s important when a project might not have months to allow a relationship to develop. And we already know we only like to work with people we like! (see posting “Please Like Me” Nov.08)

The buttons we use to find common points are the same regardless of intent: direct shared history; direct or indirect shared experience; directly shared friends. Amusingly, a common project goal isn’t enough to bring people together as a community.

Obviously, history is hard to build if you’ve just met. Or hard to ignore if the previous encounter didn’t work out well.

Directly shared friends can work as a great bridge - like a letter of reference. Feel free to ask those friends to speak up on your behalf to smooth the transition from stranger to acquaintance. We do this all the time in job searches - why not use it as a regular tool all the time?

My preferred method is finding our shared experiences. This can be accomplished during a simple coffee chat. By asking good questions to uncover what’s important to your new partner, you can offer your own experience or view and find some shared ground that is meaningful.

I have a dear friend (also a work colleague) who hates kids - so obviously we didn’t bond over my placing parenting in my top accomplishments. And she loves coffee and I am a tea drinker. We first bonded over a love of language and how one can use it as a weapon or a gift. Language is important to us both. We could have bonded over the silver jewelry we both admire - but that wouldn’t have taken us past the first day as jewelry doesn’t drive our days like language does.

Shared experience - even if you’ve never met - is a great point of reference on which to start building conversations. Uncovering it can take mere minutes with thoughtful questions and honest replies. Even if you don’t uncover much, you’ve created an open conversation and offered your ear to someone which has now created a shared history.

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