Pull the salon door handle and enter the realm of hairdryers, gossip, house music, and noxious fragrance. I’m already walking towards you with a smile on my face. This is your first time here, you’ve never seen me before, but your next 45 minutes is at my mercy.
There’s this subconscious habit I developed at an early age to help me master situations like these. Throughout my life it's helped me make the most of first impressions, make friends, network, and benefit from opportunities:
Seek the connecting points.
Connecting points are shared interests, values, attributes.
I really noticed this during my life as a hairstylist. If I were to teach anything about the hairstyling profession today, it would be how to build rapport with anyone in 20 minutes or less.
Connecting with a stranger is like an excavation process. I start by poking around. “Good day so far?”
If they seem busy: “So what kind of work do you do?” It’s likely they’ll want to talk about why they’re in a hurry.
You might miss the first few tries to connect and get a cold response. That’s okay. What’s the harm in that? Conversations always start rocky. Some more than others. Keep digging.
If they seem stressed: “Into any sports?” Or “see any good movies lately?” Usually if someone’s stressed, they’re trying to get their mind off of it. If not, they’ll open up to what’s stressing them.
Sometimes people aren’t comfortable talking to strangers. That’s when the dig is to reveal something about yourself that might strike a nerve.
If they seem like a mom: “It’s been a while since I’ve seen my mom. When she used to pick me up from school I’d always..”
If they’re wearing a cross necklace: “You know, there’s this church up the street I drive past and I’ve been thinking about checking it out…”
“Where’d you grow up? I know someone from there!”
“Why’d you choose real estate? I’ve always been fascinated with investing.”
Open ended questions that give you potential connecting points are magic spells that unlock the friendship mechanism in a person’s brain.
If they say that they are a computer programmer, I might ask them a bit about what language they spend most of their time coding in. I don’t know much about programming, but I share an interest in the Internet. I can share a personal story about trying to learn, or about a book or blog they might like.
Oftentimes it’s got to do with a hobby, because I’ve tried so many different things. Or a vacation they’ve recently taken, because I’ve been to several different countries, so it’s likely that I’ve been somewhere relative.
Religion works well for me. I grew up a christian missionary, so when people are expressly religious, I can connect with their spiritual convictions.
But I like a ton of stuff. I’ve had a lifetime of varied experiences. Connecting points.
Connecting points are signals to be triggered - Threads that interconnect the human network.
You don’t have to be a worldly person, a world traveler, or even very social to establish connecting points with someone.
Deep down we all have things in common. We all come from one original tribe. We all were in kindergarten together, just at different points in spacetime. We share human nature - Hunger, desire, personality, empathy, bias, socialization. Variation is the only thing separating us.
Any person you meet could remind you of someone you’ve known in the past. Everywhere you look is an old friend from school. Are they so much unlike your mom, dad, brother, sister, son, grandma, aunt, or nephew?
Finding connecting points is a habit that you can develop by being curious about what people are really like, what things they enjoy, what makes them light up, and then, while they are talking, searching your own mental database for related things, and trying to connect them together to establish rapport. Empathy for the ‘you’ you see in the other person.
One of the most helpful things you can do for someone is become their connecting point - connect them to resources or people who can help them get more out of life. It’s super easy to do. Just start establishing connecting points. You will be amazed at how helpful you can be in a short period of time.
Establishing connecting points has helped me throughout my life: As a kid missionary, it helped me minister to strangers, establish cross-cultural friendships around the world, and find family in church communities.
It helped me in my high school metal band, networking with bands, fans, and promoters.
This led to getting great gigs, making friends, going on tours with other bands, traveling, and being generally well-liked in many different scenes.
When I was a hairstylist, it helped me develop a return clientele very quickly and easily, because 98% of people who came in and sat in my chair left feeling like we had a connection. I made sure that we did, no matter their walk of life. Gangsters, grandmas, golfers - I can, and will, make a friend of anyone in 15 minutes flat.
It all starts with a little conversational poke, a prod, a pry. Then when they open up the cracks of their personal life and let a little bit of themselves seep out, you stick a connecting point into that seam.
Sometimes the conversation goes nowhere, so you try again. After two or three tries you get a connecting point to stick. A good conversation is marked with several connecting points. People light up when you strike the right chord. Then they will be the ones initiating the conversation with renewed interest and intrigue.
Finally, someone who understands me! Lo! Who speaks my own language!
Remember this technique and you will have a friend anywhere you go.
Seek the connecting points.
Special thanks to Arthur Plainview and Tommy Lee for all your help with this essay.