Connecting Quickly in Business

I just spent a week on jury duty. For two days a group of 70 of us were questioned by attorneys to see if we had any attitudes or biases that would make us unfit jurors on a criminal trial.

Attorneys can no longer grill potential jurors individually, so they use more of a "Donahue style" approach—walking around, asking questions like Phil Donahue used to do in his talk show, getting the audience to participate.

It took no time to see which attorneys had the skills for connecting with the jurors and getting the answers they needed and which ones struggled.

Two Minute Connection

For example, it was vital that the attorneys discover if we might be biased or prejudiced toward their client. The first attorney stood up and with a big, stiff smile and said, "There are no wrong answers here. You know that my client has been accused of assault. Even though we all know that he is innocent until proven guilty, would any of you be biased or prejudiced against him?"

No one raised a hand. First of all, we felt like suddenly we were on trial. Second, we were all good people and prejudiced and biased sounded bad. No one was going to stand up in front of 70 strangers and say, "Yes, I'm prejudiced."

The second attorney got up. "I hate the word biased. I like to use the word opinion. I have a strong opinion about curry. I don't like it. You can show me 100 articles about how good it is for my health, or serve me curry meals at five star restaurants. I don't care. I still don't like curry. You might feel the same say about assault. No matter what I say about it, you've got an opinion that no one is going to change. If any of you feel like that, raise your hand."

Several hands shot up. We didn't feel bad about ourselves for saying yes. We could be honest without being judged. In short, in less than two minutes, that attorney had truly connected with us.

Connection in Business

The same rule holds true in business. Only through connecting can you succeed. Otherwise, you're just getting by.

A fun and motivational video, How to Connect in 90 Seconds or Less by Nicholas Boothman, brings this home much better than I can.

"Once someone knows they are talking to the right person, choosing the project or service will follow naturally," says Boothman. "Once people like you, they look for opportunities to say yes."

In the video Boothman teaches you these three steps in detail:

  1. Choose the right attitude – be welcoming, enthusiastic, curious and resourceful.
  2. Send the right signals - with your face, body and voice.
  3. Get people talking and keep them talking - with a short statement and an open-ended question.

Boothman is dead on. The attorney in that courtroom did all three:

  • He set the right attitude. He was understanding, friendly and resourceful. He gave us a real life example that pertained to him—making himself a little vulnerable. He wasn't a threat like the first attorney, but a friend.
  • He sent the right signals. He didn't over gesture or stand too stiff. He looked at us and smiled—a genuine smile—although he did cringe even having to say the word "curry". He gave the impression, "You can trust me. I'm like you."
  • He got people talking. The attorney asked us a question and took the opportunity to engage us; even if it was to hold up our hands and agree.

I never would have believed how quickly someone could "sincerely" win me over. It made me want to up my own game.

I'm almost looking forward to another day on jury duty to see what else I can learn.

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.