Human beings are inherently social. We’re made to transmit and receive signals with other members of our species. Or are we? In many real life situations, we just suck at starting a conversation. Yet initiating contact is a very powerful skill that any startup founder should learn.
Let’s face it. We’re nowhere near being great at approaching people. We do involve in meaningful conversations but mostly when the context, the time, the people are right. We hardly actually initiate discussions. Especially with strangers around us – we have no idea who they are, what they do and we just can’t get ourselves to start talking to them. There are plenty of occasions to talk to people – formal and informal meetings, conferences, conventions, trainings and many more. And it all starts with a little of curiosity.
I’m not a big fan of the term, as it suggests business purpose of the entire conversation. It’s an awful thing to identify and talk to people only because they can bring something to your business, make money for you or introduce you to other people. Communication is about personalities – all things human and not just business. If anything good comes out of a conversation that can boost your revenue or give you insights onto how to develop your startup – then it’s a byproduct. First and foremost you need to find genuine fun from the interaction itself. After all it’s through dialogue that you find about other people, things that matter and about yourself. Learn now to enjoy talking to people as much as they normally enjoy talking to you. They do – believe me.
Here’s a paradox. We founders, especially in Poland, often fear initiating communication, yet all the best things that’s happened to Devinity – the way it evolved so far are there, because we talked to people – founders, CEOs, experts, investors – everyone. Our pivots all came about because we asked customers and they directly invalidated our ideas. We wouldn’t be able to take all the decisions we’ve taken so far without that input from external world.
Why talk when I can just do my job. I know what’s best. (Some random Founder)
No you don’t. Uhm, most of the time you really don’t know what’s best. Because there’s always someone who’s been there, found a solution or knows someone who did it better than you were going to do it.
And so getting insights from others is probably one most underestimated benefit of people communication. You don’t pay money for it – all it takes is get out of your comfort zone and take the first step. Once you leave that zone, things start to get exciting. Learning that through talking to people is one of the best methods to gain self-confidence and often bring most value to your life and work.
Lastly – we often complain there are no interesting people around to inspire us. Well – there are not, because they don’t just come to say “Hello, let me improve your life!”. You need to look for them. But once you find these people, you’ll see how exciting and beneficial it is to have them around. Talk to people to make friendships and partnerships.
Get rid of impostor syndrome
One reason most of us are stuck when trying to talk to others is that awful impostor syndrome. It goes like this: “I’m not good enough, competent enough, cool enough to talk to that CEO over there. He’s probably not interested in talking to me and I’m better off just avoiding contact.” That’s rubbish. People love talking back especially if they feel you’re authentically interested in what they do or talk about. And most of them will never position themselves as better than you simply because they don’t know you. They might even have a similar impostor syndrome and be afraid of initiating conversation especially if they see you talking to other people they know. We’re not impostors unless we pretend to be something else. Being authentic is always the way to go.
Identify the right people
You don’t just want to talk to everyone – or to put it less bluntly – you don’t want to engage in conversations with people, where no chemistry is present between you and the other party. People are different and not everyone is meant for one another. Talking for hours to someone that seems dishonest, pretending, boring or just irritating is not beneficial for neither of you. Realise when you’re wasting your and the other person’s time early on and continue searching for the right ones. It’s not rude to stop a conversation. Excuse yourself. It’s ok. Let’s not try to please everyone all the time.
Listen and know when to speak
Wise people already know it – listening is much more powerful than talking. That’s because people love to be listened to as their self-respect is growing with every listener. I listen = I care. Why talking to you if you seem not to care what I have to say. But listening is not only about letting words flow through one ear and leave through the other. It’s about constructive feedback too.
Provide feedback and empower others
It’s about what happens in your head when the other person is talking – analysing, measuring, comparing – all that is needed to give powerful feedback. Feedback that builds upon what a person have said rather than destroy it. Non-violent-communication is all the hype these days because some people have already figured out that we’re much better off avoiding judgement and coercion. So don’t judge, don’t force people to think or do stuff your way. Suggest if you must and at all times – try to help. This simple rule gets you ahead of others – as constructive feedback is still missing from most human interactions.
Break the silence now
Good communication isn’t easy. That’s why learning it is a competitive edge. Best way to start is going to a meetup or conference. There’s plenty of people there all ready to talk to you and actually looking forward to be talked into a conversation. Identify the right people. At conferences lanyards help to identify the name and the company – that might already tell you something. Yet few people actually read lanyards.
Anything can be a spark to start a conversation – you’ve been listening to the same lecture or talked to the same person, well maybe someone just looks likeable to you. That’s enough to start.
Startup founders at any startup event have that great opportunity because the context has already been set up. Everyone around is interested in startups – that’s a powerful topic that can be immediately built upon to make a meaningful conversation.
So the bottom line today is – go and start talking to people. That works.