Are you ever anxious about striking up a conversation with someone you've just met?
We often believe that flaunting our accomplishments and intellect is the key to making a lasting impression. But, according to Joanne Lipman, a bestselling author and former Editor-in-Chief of respected publications, including The Wall Street Journal Weekend, this approach may be entirely misguided.
In her latest book, "NEXT! The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work," Lipman delves into the art of building effective connections with strangers.
She draws from interviews with individuals who successfully shifted careers and had to establish new contacts along the way.
Lipman also consulted with social psychologists to uncover the most effective strategies for making meaningful connections.
The surprising result?
The number one way to sound smarter when engaging in small talk is to ask for advice.
Why Does Asking for Advice Work?
In a series of studies conducted by researchers from Harvard and Wharton, students were asked to tackle brain teasers with a partner. Some were informed that their performance would be judged solely on the accuracy of their answers, while others were told that their ability to make a good impression on their partner would be evaluated.
They had three options for communication: ask for advice, offer well wishes, or say nothing at all.
Predictably, students rated on their accuracy confidently sought advice. However, those who were focused on making a good impression were hesitant to ask for help, fearing it would make them appear less competent.
Interestingly, when students were paired with a partner who either remained neutral or asked them for advice, they held a higher opinion of the advice seeker. This suggests that people often perceive those who seek advice as clever, partly because it's flattering to be asked for help.
In simpler terms, the psychology behind it is that when someone asks for your advice, you're inclined to think, "They must be smart to seek my advice, and I'm smart."
Becoming an Excellent Advice Seeker
To enhance your ability to connect with strangers effectively and sound smarter, consider these strategies:
1. Ask a Lot of Questions
Research from Harvard highlights that people feel more warmly towards those who ask a lot of questions during conversations.
It's essential to ask follow-up questions that relate to what the other person is saying, demonstrating genuine interest and active listening.
2. Banish the Fear
Anxiety often holds us back from approaching others, whether it's for a business opportunity, a new connection, or even a romantic interest.
However, research suggests that this fear is often unwarranted. Executives who overcame their anxiety to seek advice from long-lost contacts found the experience not only valuable but enjoyable too.
3. Maintain Boundaries
While it's tempting to form an instant connection with someone impressive you've just met, it's crucial to exercise restraint.
Avoid making excessive demands, asking to be mentored, or sending detailed requests. Instead, ask specific questions and be respectful of their time, focusing on making a great initial impression.
So, the next time you find yourself in a conversation with a stranger, remember that impressing them isn't about boasting your achievements but rather about showing genuine interest by asking for their advice.