[Welcome to our annual Guest Writer Series! Meet JT, Guest Writer #4 (of 12). I have to say, I’m especially proud of this fast-maturing college kid… even with his not-so-humble, admirable passion during Ohio State’s football season…]
Ever slammed the door on a door-to-door salesman? He comes yapping about some product that is the best thing since sliced bread, and you can’t wait to escape that conversation. Well, I’ve been one of those salesmen. In fact, I did similar work for 7 months, and it was one of my favorite experiences to date. It certainly wasn’t the constant no’s or getting rejected over and over that I enjoyed, but the lessons I learned. I could probably spend hours talking about how I grew as a person, but I want to focus on one thing today: understanding how to create a relationship with any one person, despite their background, story, and traits.
I always wondered growing up why most people only had 5 or so friends. I mean, adults had been living for much longer than I had and met so many more people. Why was it that they only tended to put their trust and grow close with a few others? It’s pretty naive reasoning, but the complex question still remains. What does a person offer that makes us want to make them more than just an acquaintance, someone that is worth our time when time almost always seems to be lacking. At 20 years old, I certainly do not know the answer. I am young and have plenty to learn. However, I think selling telecommunication products may just have taught me a little about it.
The best salesperson was never the smooth-talking, charismatic man you may think of. Nor was it the person who was aggressive and cunning in conversation, as I often thought. Instead, it was the person who did the least talking. The salesperson who stopped talking and got the customer talking about themselves always seemed to sell the product. This person actually did very little talking about the product they were selling. They simply listened to the customer, replied when necessary, and asked questions to learn who the customer was beyond someone they were selling. In two words, they adapted. The best salesperson adapted to whom they were talking to and made conversation. It did not matter who the customer was.
The problem with this salesperson example is that the salesperson has an agenda. This is not always the case in everyday conversation, as sometimes two people are just trying to get to know each other. Yet, how do we usually do that? I always liked to talk about my own story, how I was special because I was a lefty in baseball and taller than my entire family. I loved talking about myself, as it seems everyone does. All I would look for is someone who matched my interests and background and then make those people my friends whom I spent my time with. It seems most people are no different. There is something called the confirmation bias in psychology, partially defined as the tendency to search for information that confirms one’s existing beliefs. As far as I have found, this is how people usually make friends. Friends are created through mutual interests, stories, and backgrounds. Going back to the best salesperson example, this is not what they would do. The best salesperson talked about the customer’s interests first and foremost. Strip away the agenda, imagine if this were how a majority of people approached conversation. Would we be able to connect with just about anyone, even if they were not similar to us? My experience on a cruise a few years back sure makes me think so.
I look back on our vacation on a cruise as one of the best our family has ever taken. There are simply no obligations on a cruise, nothing you have to do, and you achieve true rest and relaxation. I loved not only spending time with my family, but meeting new people on the boat. My older brother and I ran into a group of teenagers on one of the last days at the pool. Since the cruise was nearing its end, my brother and I did not spend much time with these people, but I got to know one of the girls in the group very well. By the time we got off the boat, I could tell you why The Notebook was this girl’s favorite movie, why she decided to take a gap year before college, and the reasons behind her political opinions. Her thoughts on politics, along with taking a gap year and her favorite movie, were not in any way similar to me. In fact, I would argue this girl is someone very unlike myself. Nonetheless, after the cruise was over, she messaged me saying the following: “I’ve never connected so well with someone. I’m so happy we got the chance to be friends.” This is not something I heard everyday, so why did this girl think this? Most likely because I did not approach talking to her with my background and my interests. I tried to get to know her through intent listening and questions. Now, maybe this only worked because people are nicer on a cruise, since everyone feels the need to meet other people. That is what I thought initially, so I tested my theory again 2 weeks ago.
This summer I am staying with some family friends as I intern in Atlanta, GA. A couple weeks ago they all went to the pool with some friends, and I was fortunate enough to get an invite. I showed up a little later than everyone else and quickly realized I was not with my typical crowd. There were probably around ten kids there, all 10 years old or younger, accompanied by their mothers, which numbered 3, and one grandma, probably around the age of 70. Each mom was talking to the others, while all the kids were in the pool, but the one grandma sat all by herself. I only spent about an hour at the pool, but the entire time I sat talking with this grandma. When I left, she stood up and said, “Jarrett, I can’t wait to see what you do in life. I can tell you are very smart and will do big things. You are just a wonderful kid.” Honestly, I think this statement has no real basis. That entire hour I did not say a word about my life or background. Instead, we spent the entire time talking about the grandma, about how her daughters live in Denver, Atlanta, and Baltimore, about how her eldest grandchild will try out for the Junior Olympics of swimming next year, how she is concerned that her family is becoming smarter than she as she ages, and much more. I truly could go on and on about this grandma, because we really only talked about her and her life. She really appreciated that. No, this grandma was not the same age as me, from the same place as me, or very similar to me in general. That simply does not matter. Taking the other person’s interests and story into account first results in a potential friendship with anyone we meet. That is probably why I still stay in touch with the salesman, the girl from the cruise, and the grandma today.