As I mentioned in a previous post, I think everybody should try a job in sales. Working in sales has a number of advantages, one of which is honing and enhancing your social skills. Before I got into sales I absolutely dreaded talking to new people. I just never knew what to say to start a conversation. One day I mentioned this to the salesman I worked with – I told him I just didn’t know what to say to somebody I know nothing about. He told me something he’d learned early in his career from his mentor.
“FORM. That’s all you need to know.” he told me.
I was confused. “FORM? What’s that?”
“It’s an acronym. It stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation, Motivation. Those are things you can talk to anybody about. Let me explain:
Family – Check their ring finger – are they married? If so, how did they meet? Do they have kids? If so, how old are they? What’s the last family vacation they took? Where did they go?
Occupation – What do they do? What do they like best about their job? What did they study in college to get this job? What’s their dream job?
Recreation – What do they do when they aren’t at work? Look around their office. Are there pictures of them playing sports? Do they have a hobby?
Motivation – What motivates the person? Money? Accomplishments? What’s really important to them?
If you don’t know what to say to somebody, just think of FORM and start asking a few questions.”
It turns out this was fantastic advice. First, FORM helps you avoid potentially contentious issues like politics, religion, and money. Instead, you’ll stick to safe topics that help you get a better understanding of what makes somebody unique, how they got to their current position, and what’s important to them. By understanding their motivations you can help tailor any business discussion with them to ensure you’re only presenting relevant information. This maximizes their time and yours.
The key to making this approach work is to be genuinely interested in the other person. You have to listen and ask follow-up questions. Being interested is interesting. If you are interested in somebody else they’ll think you’re interesting. They’ll want to learn more about you and you might create a real connection.
I heard a great quote once – “Everybody you’ll ever meet knows something you don’t”. If you approach a new social interaction as a chance to learn something new you’ll find that your social interactions are a lot more fun.
Do you have any tips or tricks for talking to new people or breaking the ice in social situations? Try FORM the next time you meet somebody new and let me know how it goes.