What do these seven things have in common?
- Brass name plate
- House with a white picket fence
- Family playing a game
- Ancient map of the world
- Giant orange work glove
- Airplane flying by
- Golf clubs, tennis racquet and a basketball
If you put them together they form a slightly weird, but memorable word picture, and are prompts for questions you can ask when you meet someone for the first time. I learned this ice breaker approach in a Dale Carnegie class more than a dozen years ago. Here’s the weird word picture:
When you look at someone for the first time imagine a big, brass name plate above their head. As you approach them you see a nice home with a white picket fence. You enter the home and see a family playing a game. You look across the room and see a fireplace with an ancient map of the world on the mantle. Magically, you ascend the chimney and there’s a giant orange work glove at the top. As an airplane flies by the glove grabs it by the tail and on the wings you see golf clubs, a tennis racquet and a basketball.
Let’s dissect each of the items to find out how they can help you initiate conversation in a non-threatening way and kickstart the principle of liking.
- The brass name plate is a simple reminder to ask someone their name. Once you’ve done that, picture their name written on it to help you remember it.
- A house with white picket fence is a prompt to find out where someone currently lives.
- The family playing a game is a visual to ask, “Tell me about your family.” This is better than asking, “Do you have any kids?” because that can be a sensitive subject for some people who cannot have children or chose not to.
- The fireplace with an ancient map of the world is a subtle reminder to ask where someone is originally from. This question is good because most people don’t live in the same town where they were born.
- The giant orange work glove on top of a chimney is a prompt to ask what the person does for a living.
- The plane flying by is a trigger to find out, “Do you like to travel?” or “Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever been?”
- Finally, the golf clubs, tennis racquet and a basketball on the wing of the plane can start a conversation around hobbies and sports the person might enjoy.
Why all the questions? A big part of your ability to influence people is contingent on building good relationships. It’s a scientific fact according to principle of liking; the more someone likes you the better your chance of hearing yes when you try to persuade them. With that in mind, here are three big reasons to use this approach:
- In How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie encouraged readers to show genuine interest in the other person. I’m sure you feel good when someone shows real interest in you so be that person for someone else.
- Connecting on what you have in common is a simple way to bond with another person. The more you find similarities the easier it is for them to like you and for you to like them.
- Last, the more you learn about someone the more opportunities there are to pay a genuine compliment. The more you offer genuine praise, the more the person will like you and you’ll like them.
Whenever you meet someone for the first time – be it at a networking event, work, party – it can feel awkward to get a conversation going. But it doesn’t have to be when you have a script to follow. I encourage you to practice each question till they roll off your tongue in a natural, conversational way. Do so and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more people like you and how you’ll come to like others in return.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, the most cited living social psychologist on the topic of ethical influence. Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive Selling, Persuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback, have been viewed by more than 65,000 people! Have you watched them yet? Click a course title to see what you’ve been missing.