Chief Executive Officer
This Week in Leadership (Nov 22 - Nov 28)
Surging COVID cases have leaders debating their return-to-office plans. Plus, business books for the holidays and tips for launching a second career.
Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry. He is the author of Advance: The Ultimate How-To Guide for Your Career and Lose the Resume, Land the Job. For more information, see KFAdvance.com.
There’s no better magnet for attention than a dog. They trigger immediate emotions and connections—smiles, compliments, and small talk.
But it’s never directed at you. You’re on the wrong end of the leash.
This happened to me just the other day when I took Charlie, our golden retriever, out for a walk. Over and over, I kept hearing the same questions: what’s your name, how old are you, can I pet you. No eye contact with me, never asked my name. I might as well have been invisible. It had me wondering, who was walking whom?
It’s symptomatic of a much bigger problem: people don’t know how to make a first-time connection with others. It’s so easy with a dog—and no pressure with a baby in a stroller, either. They’re happy with everything you say. But when it comes to breaking the ice and starting a two-way conversation with someone they don’t know, many people freeze up, clam up, and back up into a corner.
You don’t need a killer opening line like you’re Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle doing standup. Just go back to the basics—like the guy I met at an event on Saturday evening. He made eye contact, introduced himself, and explained how he was connected to the group. It was so simple, but so refreshing.
Not knowing how to break the ice and start a conversation won’t do you any favors in your next interview, client event, networking, or even with the person who works on a different floor than you. When in doubt, greet everyone like a dog or a baby. “Hi, what’s your name?” is a perfectly acceptable ice breaker—and a lot better than shrinking into silence.
Here’s how to get beyond the discomfort and make a first-time connection.
You don’t need to be a great orator or hold people spellbound with your stories. Just introduce yourself and ask people their names. You can practice the next time you’re out walking your dog, or you pass your neighbors with their pets. All it takes is a few friendly words delivered to both ends of the leash.