It starts with the eyes. Meet their eyes. This is then followed by a nod, or a smile, or a hello. If they look away, they’ve told you a lot. It’s generally not worth pursuing at that point.
But let’s say they’ve met your gaze in a positive, if not just neutral, fashion. Next comes the curiosity. What do you want to know? And then ask, in an authentically appropriate manner.
It happened this weekend, again, to me. I was taking a walk in my neighborhood and saw a young man taking a fishing pole out of his trunk. Now, I see what floats down the river behind my home, so I was genuinely curious. I did the aforementioned: met his gaze, he actually said hello first, and then I asked “Do you actually catch anything here?”
“Yes,” he answered, “I actually caught a wide mouth yesterday.”
“Can you eat them?” I asked.
“Nah – just catch and release,” he said. And then he paused and looked downward. “Well, actually I don’t live here. I’m just here for my grandmother’s funeral.”
OK, so how would I have EVER known this if I had not had the curiosity to ask him an innocuous question? What a privilege then to be able to give my compassion and sympathy to this total stranger. I agreed with him that fishing was a great thing to do in this circumstance – and then went on my way.
I tell you this because people ask me all the time how I meet the celebrities, politicians, business leaders and just plain fascinating people. It’s because I am authentically curious. And I know people appreciate that. Once I saw Ted Danson at the airport, and I wondered if he was on his way to Martha’s Vineyard, where I knew he had a home. So, when he came walking near me, I met his gaze and I smiled at him, and then asked the question. It led to a wonderful conversation, all the way to baggage claim! It’s how I’ve gotten 90% of the guests on my webshow, “Superbwoman Sundays at 7”. It’s how I’ve made so many friends over the years and continue to make more. I remain steadfastly curious.
But there are times when I can’t think of a single thing to say. I also saw Kevin Bacon at the airport and never said a word to him. All I could think of was the 6 degrees of separation between us and I knew that was only of interest to me. I wasn’t curious about anything else about him in that moment, so I let it go. Of course, I thought of a million things later, but I never push something in the moment.
There are, unfortunately, so few moments of true human face-to-face contact these days. Sure, there are loads of opportunities to “connect” online, but think about the last time you actually had an in-person conversation, where someone looked you in the eyes and truly wanted to know something about you. Didn’t that connection mean a whole lot more than the number of “likes” on social media?
Conversations start with curiosity. Relationships start with curiosity. Life just is better with it. Take the time. Meet their gaze. Smile. And be authentically curious. It works every time!