Someone at a speaker’s bureau recently asked, “What about people who aren’t natural connectors? What do they do?” Her question implied that Consequential Strangers is about the need to “network,” but she missed the point: The message of the book is to broaden your social awareness–which anyone can do, regardless of his or her personality.
Granted, certain kinds of folks–extroverts, city dwellers, salespeople, media types, and women–find it relatively easy to meet people and make small talk. As a result, they probably accumulate more consequential strangers than people who are on the shy side or in an isolated setting. But almost everyone–even someone in tiny Medaryville, Indiana, population 549 at last count–has some consequential strangers. My point is that no matter who you are, you can make the most of them.
1. Become aware of the consequential strangers in your life. Of anyone who is not part of your inner cirle, ask yourself, “Where do I see and spend time with this person?” Chances are, it’s a place or activity–work, the gym, a school, church, your commute, your neighborhood, the ball field. The goal is to see your life through a social lens: as a cavalcade of relationships, not just a series of events.
2. Look at the resources you already have. Revisit your history through this perspective. What has each the person given you? And what can you count on in the future? Advice? A laugh? Gossip? Job leads? Agita ? The greater the variety of people in your life, the more resources you have. (Take the Occupation Test –posted on May 31–to see whether your convoy is diverse.)
3. Scout out new possibilities. Give a stranger a moment’s thought. You can choose not to engage, but you could also take one little step. Smile, nod, say hello. Use the person’s name; ask something about him; find a small patch of common ground. Offer a tidbit about yourself but be appropriate. (Don’t open the conversation with a true confession.) The exchange will be pleasant (because you are). You might never see that person again, but if you do, you can pick up where you left off.
4. Add to your convoy as needed. On a good day, most of us are flooded in information and have to make complex decisions–what car to buy, where to send the kids to school, what to do with the 401K, how to build a website, whether or not to Twitter. And in crisis–illness, accident, divorce, depression (our own or the economy’s), it’s even harder. We simply can’t do it alone–or just with loved ones.
5. Recruit new people into your convoy who have the expertise, information, or empathy you need.Seek out professional help if you can afford it or ask people you know to recommend people they know. Also, go to places (a support group, a convention, an association, a cyber café, a web community) where you’re likely to meet a stranger who fits the bill. And then go back to #3 and turn that stranger into a consequential stranger!
A word to the shy: Start small, build social muscle slowly, and watch the results.