Easy ways to practice for informal encounters with senior execs

 In Message creation

The interactions I have most trouble with are the informal ones, particularly with senior execs. You know, the times before a meeting starts, or after it has ended, or at a networking event, or in a lift. 

Recently a younger client of mine shared the above challenge.

The reason why informal interactions can be challenging is because they’re unpredictable. You can’t prepare for them in the same way as preparing for a presentation.

One idea I shared with the client, was that she needed to practice handling informal interactions (at first, non-A class ones) as a dancer would practice dance steps with a partner.

That is,

she needed to practice and ‘encode’ the turn-taking rhythm

and coordination of her communication (spoken words paired with body movement) with the other person’s communication.

So, how does one get this handling informal interaction, practice?

One of the techniques I suggested was to step outside her comfort zone and practice handling interactions in environments that already occur on a regular basis.

One of these environments is potential chance interactions in lifts. (elevators, for my North American readers).

Here is a schema for taking advantage of potential lift interactions:

#1 Prime your mind to identify opportunities where just you, and one other person are in the lift. Your internal mantra might be, ‘Notice one-on-one lift opportunities’.

#2 When the opportunity arises, first read the person and the situation. That is, observe person’s behaviour. If they’ve got their head buried in their phone, or if they’re just ascending or descending just one or two levels, resist interacting.

However, if they seem to be open to interacting (with practice you’ll get a handle on this), and seem ‘unoccupied’, go to step #3.

#3 Ask the person one of these questions:

  • At the start of the day, ‘How’s the day started?’
  • In the middle of the day, ‘How’s the day going?’
  • At the end of the day, ‘How’s the day been?’

#4 Listen (Don’t Be Anywhere Else) to the person’s response. Pause, and as appropriate, make a comment based on what they’ve said.

Sure, some people may be unresponsive or startled. That’s the risk. But the pay-off for you is that you’ve practiced your informal interaction rhythm and you’ve shown in interest in another human being.

If you find the above task daunting, another suggestion is to become aware of people you regularly see in your office building/lifts – but have never spoken to. In a lift on in the lobby of your building, you might say something along the following lines: ‘Hi, I’ve seen you now and again in this lift/building, is your office here?’

Own the Conversation

In the next seven days, complete the above schema. Every day aim to make a comment to one ‘stranger’. Reflect on what you’ve learnt.

p.s. Check out this post on How to make a strong physical connection when delivering a presentation.

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