Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

How to Start a Conversation That Will Enhance a Potential Relationship

You never get a second chance to start the right conversation with strangers.  Most of us will tend to lead in with a typical, “How are you doing?” or “ How was your trip in?” These predictable questions, along with comments about the weather, may be in our comfort zone, but they are not the most effective icebreakers. I believe we are more likely to have a meaningful conversation if we move past the cliche and find something more appropriately personal to discuss.

My experience is generic questions get generic answers. My goal is always to connect in an authentic way that can benefit the individual or everyone at the table, so I find it’s best to choose a specific topic that leads to more than a one sentence answer. For example, if I’m at a conference, I try to ask what brought the other person there. If I’m in an office and see a family picture on the person’s desk or a degree on the wall, I inquire. Paying attention to the surroundings is often very easy way to find a commonality that leads to a much more rich discussion.

It takes a little more work, but building a genuine connection is much more likely to lead to future communication. That may end in a casual friendship or it might result in a good business relationship. Either way, it seems a significantly better outcome than if you just discussed the results of the latest football game, the weather or the traffic you sat in on the way to the event.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.