Decades ago when my kids were young and we had just moved to Denver, Colorado, I took them to Mother Cabrini’s Shrine. It was perched on the side of Lookout Mountain and there were 373 steps to reach the shrine. (We wished we had worn our hiking boots!)
When we finally arrived at the top, it wasn’t a surprise to find the site empty. It was a weekday and we were the only people taking the stairs. But later, three other people joined us – an older gentleman and two women. Being the only people up there, it was almost like standing in an elevator where you can’t ignore those who share the limited space with you.
So I struck up a conversation.
“Hi. Do you live here or are you visiting the Denver area?” I asked.
The gentleman responded, “Oh my wife and I live in Denver, but our friend here is visiting from out of state.”
“Where are you from?” I asked the older woman.
“Upstate New York,” she said.
“Really? Where in Upstate New York?”
“Dear, it’s a very small little town; you wouldn’t recognize the name it’s so small,” she said.
“Well, try me.”
She replied, “It’s a little town called Gates, just outside of Rochester, New York.”
“No kidding,” I said. “I grew up in Chili just up the road from you. What a small world!”
She agreed it was indeed a small world. But it was about to get even smaller.
“I have a very dear friend who lives in Chili. She and I went to school together and have stayed friends for over 60 years,” she explained.
“Oh? What’s her name. Perhaps I know of her.”
“Dear, you’d never know this woman. She’s an old lady just like me. But her name is Marcella Schickler.”
Marcella Schickler was my grandmother!
Small Talk Forms Connections
I still smile when I think of her traveling across the country to visit friends and they just so happened to end up at Mother Cabrini’s shrine the same day I took my family on a field trip. And I think what I would have missed out on had I not spoken to this lady and her friends. She was tickled pink about meeting Marcella’s granddaughter and great-grandchildren.
Gramma was pretty tickled too. We took a photo of her friend and I together and I sent it back to my her. She was delighted we had met. Gramma died soon after, so I’m glad it brought her some happiness.
I’ll bet you could share a lot of stories similar to mine. We discover these coincidences by taking an interest in people, by reaching out and asking questions. And by being willing to share information about ourselves.
We don’t want to be too nosy, but small talk like this can reveal all kinds of connections, coincidences and opportunities. What’s the benefit? It makes the world seem more friendly. It could lead to a business deal or a new job. But it doesn’t happen unless we take a few minutes to strike up a conversation.
In my book, taking an interest in others is well worth the effort, especially today when texting and email take the place of far too many face to face interactions. The art of conversation is a dying skill.
How to Make the Process Easier
You can share this with your introverted pals to help them get over their hesitancy to reach out and connect.
Learn how to ask “how” and “what” questions.
Don’t just ask “How are you doing?” because we all know the answer to that one. It doesn’t take the conversation very far when they respond, “good.” That’s usually the end of it.
But rather, ask…
- How do you like the Denver area?
- How has your industry changed?
- What are you planning for your next vacation?
- What plans do you have after graduation?
- How did you decide on this career?
Stick with “how” and “what” questions and you’ll do well.
You’ve heard this before. Open ended questions like the ones above get you more information and better information. We don’t do enough of it. Try it out on one person each day and see how your hesitancy disappears and your confidence builds over time.
And thank goodness you don’t have to climb 373 stairs to the top of a mountain to practice!