The car stops. You open the vehicle’s passenger door and eye the driver. In those first 7 seconds you’re tuning into one thing…
A short conversation ensues about direction and destination. But the verbal exchange masks the important stuff. Because the decision to accept a lift is never a small one.
You’re checking out the driver’s appearance and the state of the vehicle. You listen to tone and even smell the air. And if they’ve got company, there’s many more judgements to make.
Rugby legend stops for hitchhiker
Sometimes the decision is easy and delightful. For example, whilst hitching north of Aberystwyth in 1989 I opened the door of a large gleaming Mercedes only to set eyes on a world rugby legend sitting at the wheel. If I had been a news editor back then, the headline ‘Rugby legend stops for hitchhiker’ would have been my front page lead (read on for more).
Then there’s the bizarre, like the time I slung back a minibus door to be greeted by a group of singing builders (with an unusual passion for scaffolding) . And of course, the real challenges; when your sixth sense (which is developed through experience) suggests something isn’t right.
Stretching the comfort zone
And that ‘dynamic’ of meeting new people is the same in business. Entrepreneurs cannot wait for people to come to them. This necessarily means going out to see people and working in unfamiliar territory and different situations.
This stretches the comfort zone and initially puts you out of control, but with practice and experience, patterns of behaviour emerge and confidence grows.
It’s accepted that people are typically far less relaxed when they meet others for the first time. Those first 7 seconds may also be awkward. But just like the hitchhiker, the entrepreneur has a vested interest in developing judgement skills, using time efficiently and being liked by people they meet.
According to leadership expert Carol Kinsey Goman, first opinions about people are typically formed within those first 7 seconds. As a hitchhiker I rarely spent much time talking about directions before getting in the vehicle. And I reckon I can count on one hand the lift offers I actually rejected. And these ratios reflect almost exactly my first-time meetings with people in business. Within those first 7 seconds I’ve decided the person in front of me isn’t a lunatic and it’s likely that the time will be well spent.
Of course, judgement works both ways. In those first 7 seconds the other person is making their mind up about you. Appearance, speech, manner and eye contact are all assessed. Over the years drivers also told me awful stories of hitchikers who stank.
As part of any assessment it’s important not to just listen to what people say when you first meet them. If you’re in their office what does the rest of the room tell you about them? How well do they dress? How much interest do they take in you? How do they behave towards others? Answers to these questions provide clues about the person/people with whom you are dealing and you are able to adjust your own behaviour accordingly. You’ll find many other articles within this blog that focus on relationships and human behaviour.
Questions and listening
In my head, all I could see was the headline ‘world rugby legend stops for hitchhiker’.
Throughout that memorable journey, winding through the valleys towards Snowdonia, I enjoyed listening to his take on life, how his sporting career started (as an 18 year old he hitchhiked to his first pre-match Welsh rugby training session and was picked up by a journalist tasked with discovering the brilliant new scrum half!) and of course why he picked me up.
As such, Gareth did most of the talking and I just listened. This simple dynamic works in a very powerful way and builds relationships because it is based on the following principle:
…the most important person in our own world is ourselves and given the opportunity we typically ‘like’ to talk about ourselves.
Within the pages of the must read book ‘Influence: Science & Practice‘, world-renowned author Robert Cialdini devotes a whole chapter to the issue of ‘Liking’. Critically, we like people who take a genuine interest in us and the easiest way to demonstrate this is to ask questions and listen to what people say.
The entrepreneur who seeks genuine (not insincere) interest in prospects, customers, suppliers and staff, makes people feel good about themselves and thus builds stronger relationships. By contrast, the person who talks endlessly about themselves falls into a common trap. They bore quickly and struggle to build quality relationships.
As a hitchhiker it was always my way to encourage the driver to talk about themselves. Not only was it interesting to learn about their lives, but they typically drove me further (Gareth very kindly went an extra 20 miles).
However, people are different and some are cautious about revealing information. When I hitched some didn’t want to talk at all. But by tuning into situations it was possible to adopt appropriate strategies that reflected the needs of the individual with whom I travelled. But building sound relationships from scratch means judging those first 7 seconds effectively.
Key Learning Points: Regularly meeting new people makes you a better judge of others and situations. In those first 7 seconds actively seek non-verbal and verbal clues to help you assess others and then create a positive influence by asking questions and listening to what’s said.