I am aiming to meet new people from the office every day, over lunch or coffee. I would have said I get anxious about meeting new people in my early 30s, but no longer. I don’t have to prepare or think about what to talk about before the meeting… just go with the flow.
I asked the husband why he hasn’t met with the person he knew from Manila that is also working and living in Jakarta. His answer surprised me. He said: I don’t know what to talk about. That made me pause and step back, the skill of feeling comfortable when meeting new people is an acquired one; no one is born with that.
Generally speaking, when I meet new people, I follow a few principles:
- Be genuinely curious. We all know that people like to talk about themselves, so a simple strategy is to ask about their life, interests, and concerns. Yet, I believe the curiosity must be genuine. Otherwise, it could backfire. I like to ask about their family, what they do on weekends, and their recommendation for restaurants (everybody in Asia loves to talk about food, and Indonesian are very proud of their cuisine). With these questions, I get a sense of who they are and their interest, and it opens more topics to discuss.
- Be open about sharing. The other person might start asking personal questions too, and I feel very comfortable sharing my story, which people usually get curious about (Chinese looking speaking strongly accented Spanish from Argentina). Usually, Asian people are not invasive, so the questions are not too personal, usually around family, which is a great way to connect with the other person. Westerners are more interested in hobbies, travel, than family and food.
- Ask for help. I find that meeting new people, or at the start of a relationship, being open about needing their help is a great way to get closer to the person. It could be on work, on life, anything really.
- Be respectful. This is particularly relevant in Indonesia because it’s a Muslim country. I don’t know much about their religion, so I am cautious when I ask about their rituals (6 times a day to pray), fasting, clothing (covering hair for women), etc. I find that as long as I ask about them in a curious and not judgemental way, they are very happy to share their thoughts about them.
- Meet people without an agenda. I am not good at networking and hated it when I started working 11 years ago. Now, I am interested in meeting new people because I find most people are interesting in some aspects. Hence, it actually opens my mind about the world by meeting new people, especially from different countries and backgrounds. It is like traveling without traveling. I meet people without thinking about how they can help me or I’d benefit from meeting them, as pure networking. Instead, I am enjoying the process of meeting new people by itself. Some of them I might see more often, and others just once, which is totally fine.
Yesterday I had lunch with a research analyst in my unit. He’s in his 20s, Indonesian, full life ahead of him. He took me to local food stands where he usually buys food. We had a yummy, local, cheap (1.2 USD) lunch in the office cantina. In 1 hour, I got to know about his family background, interest, and plans. Truly enjoyable and stress free lunch.