One of my friends is crippled by social anxiety. Before she meets a new friend of her husband or someone at work, she spends half an hour in the toilet rehearsing over and over again just how she is going to say “hello” or shake their hand.
While that is a pretty extreme example, there are many people who find it difficult to walk into a room – socially or professionally – and build an instant rapport with the group already in it.
It’s understandable. Meeting new people can be intimidating. But if you want to excel in an interview or forge your future career by networking in your present place of work, it’s a skill you have to master.
As an editor of a magazine, I get to meet a lot of people. In fact, it’s one of the best things about my job, especially as nurses usually have such brilliant stories and amazing empathy to help you feel at ease.
With some of the other kinds of people I’ve interviewed in my career – business people, artists, shop owners, beauty therapists, scientists – I’ve had to work really hard to extricate information from them. But nurses are a different kettle of fish. Most of the time my carefully planned and structured interviews are deemed unnecessary – I ask the first question, and my interviewees are off, unable to stop telling me about their careers, their roles, their achievements and their ideas.
There are times, though, when I’ve met nurses who are a little less comfortable meeting new people. Sometimes the conversation doesn’t flow and it’s hard to engage. Often this can be because people are shy or just don’t have the art of interaction down pat.
So always make sure you’ve got a couple of questions up your sleeve to break the ice. Remember that people love talking about themselves – and so if you ask lots of questions about their area of interest, job or passions, they’ll warm to you. But don’t bombard them – don’t make it feel like an interrogation.
Look for their non-verbal signs – leaning in, listening attentively, head on one side – and make sure your body language makes them feel that you are equally interested in what they have to say.
The best way to get people to open up is to ask lots of open questions – those that start who, what, where, when, why or how. For example, “What do you do? Where did you train? How do you feel about the move to an all-degree profession?” This means they will not be able to answer with one-word monosyllabic answers.
The most important thing to remember is that you must be genuinely interested in people. If you fake it, people can tell. When I meet a nurse for the first time or interview them over the phone, I really want to find out what makes them tick, what interests them and what’s the story that defines them. Sometimes it’s a philosophy they’ve lived their life by, sometimes it’s a life-changing or near-death experience they or a patient has had, sometimes it’s a great quote that really inspires me or sometimes it’s just that they are funny, clever, generous or sympathetic. Everyone always has something. And I love finding out what it is.
So when you’re going into an interview situation or meeting people socially or through work, I’d offer up two tips. Try and find out what it is that makes that person in front of you excited about their job or their life? If you’re talking about family or direct patient care or working in a fast-paced A&E, look for signals that they are interested in that too. Are they leaning forward, nodding, looking reflective. Are they offering their own views – waiting to cut in and agree with you?
And try and make them feel special or good about the experience. At the end of every day, you will have met, touched or encountered a number of people – and wouldn’t it be nice to think that you’ve helped to make their day a little bit easier, better and more enjoyable? So make that a resolution in 2012.