“We have nothing in common.”
We’ve all heard (and probably used) this phrase, but it’s not actually true. We are all connected, we all have things in common. We just need to engage in conversations that reveal our similarities.
It can be hard to break through the silos that separate us, but the effort is well worth it. We’re social creatures. We thrive by forming strong, intimate bonds with one another, in both our personal and our professional lives. Yet, anthropologically, we are hardwired to be ready to fight or flee from someone not of our tribe—a state of mind that obviously has a very negative effect on our ability to innovate together. Small talk quiets that reptilian response of our brain.
In the excerpt below from The Necessity of Strangers, Alan Gregerman shows how quickly two people can find not just one thing, but many things, in common. Some are meaningful, others are frivolous, but they all serve to bring those two individuals together. And once they connect, it becomes easier for them to connect with others, leading to what Gregerman calls a “culture of conversation.” Through shared interests, former strangers can form authentic relationships that encourage deep, meaningful collaboration.
Knowing that, how can you not use Gregerman’s technique the next time you meet someone?
An excerpt from chapter 6 of The Necessity of Strangers: The Intriguing Truth about Insight, Innovation, and Success
Have you ever taken the time to really get to know the people you work with?
I don’t mean just your closest friends at the office (assuming you have close friends where you work), the other people who work in your department, or the people across the hall or in the next set of cubicles, but all of the other absolutely wonderful and remarkable folks in all of the other departments who may seem to exist simply to make your life miserable. Or the ones who don’t even make your life miserable but are simply names and titles posted on doors. If you did try to get to know them, you might find that:
a. You actually like them.
b. They have interests and talents beyond their job descriptions.
c. You have something in common with them.
d. All of the above.
This question—Have you ever taken the time to really get to know the people you work with?— isn’t on the SAT, the Myers-Briggs, or any other assessment instrument or personality profile, but it might be more important to your success than all of those tools. For the past several years I have been challenging companies and organizations around the world to think about this question and its relevance to their short- and long-term success—and then to have conversations with each other and, in the process, create “cultures of conversation” in which they ask all of their people to commit to discovering the humanity, genius, and possibilities in their coworkers and their entire organizations. They are to do this two people at a time by making a simple and powerful human connection through a simple exercise that lays the foundation for greater collaboration.
To date, over twenty thousand people in different walks of life, positions, and levels, and across companies and cultures, have been part of my experiment. All I do is ask people to pair off with someone they don’t know very well or don’t know at all. Then I give them a very easy assignment: have a five-minute conversation in which you can talk about anything you like except work. Anything else. You can talk about your hobbies and interests, your family, where you grew up, where you went to school, what you eat for breakfast, the books you like to read, or even the fact that you were raised by wolves. Anything. Except work. And, because metrics are important, during the five minutes you have to come up with a list of at least ten things the two of you have in common. Ten things about you that are shared by another person from your company or organization whom you hardly know.