What Being A Car Salesman Taught Me About Connecting With People

Roxanne Hale

4 Tips For Breaking Down Barriers With Anyone

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In my early twenties, I took a job selling cars after college. As a shy introvert, I had to overcome my fear of meeting new people. The three years I spent selling cars on a car lot taught me the invaluable skill of breaking the ice with strangers.

With time and practice, I developed a few handy shortcuts that allow me to quickly build rapport with just about anyone, anywhere. While there is nothing particularly revolutionary about my approaches the difficult part is overriding the internal noise most people experience when they meet someone for the first time.

It’s common for a person to have buzzing behind the ears when they are in uncomfortable situations. It's the fight or flight response. Fear causes you to go on autopilot instead of being more purposeful and intentional in your interactions.

My tactics are basic, but to employ them in your favor, you’ll need to practice, so they become automatic. When I teach basic sales training classes in my real estate work, I always get a groan from the group when we practice greetings live in class. They think they’re simple and then immediately screw it up. Overriding bad conversation habits takes practice.

Take the Lead

Show some confidence and take the lead by greeting your new friend first. Extend your hand and make your introduction. By making your introduction first, you also free up your brain to remember their name and repeat it back when they give it to you. This is a reliable go-to hack for anyone that has trouble remembering names.

Here is what that sounds like, “Hello, my name is Lynn. And you are?”

When they give you their name, you say, “John, John, it’s nice to meet you.”

By saying their name twice, you drop it into your short-term memory and increase your chances of recalling it later. Find a way to use it one more time after that quickly, and it should be locked into memory for good.

Start Off with An Off-Topic Opener

A charming way to disarm someone is to start the conversation unexpectedly with an off-topic comment. If you have the skill, say something funny. Humor has a way of lowering guards, which is a cornerstone of building rapport.

I recall becoming fast friends with a girl in my college algebra class when she approached me and motioned to the empty seat next to me and said, “I’m really good at math. You’re going to want me to sit here.” Memorable and funny, it worked like a charm.

Being an observant person comes in handy too. People leave clues to their personalities all around them. Clothing and accessory choices, friends, and family members in tow, and comments they make all give you material to work with. And when nothing substantial can be found, there are always environmental cues. The weather, day of the week, or other surroundings are safe choices.

When I approached families on the car lot, I could see their body language shrink, watching me walk up. The world hates a car salesman. I would disarm them by asking the youngest child present if he was there for a test drive. Once I had their guard down a little, it was easier to make friends and find ways to help them. I always tried to be the opposite of what they expected – in a positive way.

Offending Body Language

Whether you are meeting someone new or talking to a familiar acquaintance, monitoring your body language and non-verbal cues can improve communication.

Just about everyone knows comfortable eye contact is a sign of confidence. But how does that play out in a conversation? Allow your eyes to make contact for a few seconds at a time, but void starring at anyone. Never stare at the ground, check your phone, or allow yourself to become too distracted with your surroundings. This gives the impression you are being deceitful, or you are uninterested.

Keep your hands in view or in front of you. Avoid putting them in your pockets, behind your back, or underneath a table, if you are sitting. Hidden hands are a non-verbal sign of dishonesty.

Nothing breaks a barrier down faster than a smile. Anytime you approach someone new for the first time, I’ve found it helpful to smile big and hold it two seconds longer than they do.

Sometimes a person’s facial expressions work against them. They look too stern or maybe over emote at times. If this is you, be mindful of it in your interactions.

Fascinating Conversationalist or Expert Listener

Often when meeting people for the first time, we feel the need to fill in the quiet parts of a conversation or give in to the pressure to be super entertaining. The counter-intuitive truth about it all is that being an expert listener endears you to others faster than witty conversation.

Being a great listener is rare, and it’ll cause you to stand out.

When others talk, ask questions. Make observations. When you do add something to the conversation, it’ll be concise and thoughtful in most cases.

Unlike confidence, being a good listener is something you can “fake it until you make it.” You can’t fake sincerity or interest. You’ll actually have to be interested.

Abandon the thought of a conversation as being like a tennis match. Instead, go into conversations like a detective, determined to discover something interesting about the other person.

Usable Insights

People often find themselves uncomfortable having to mix it up with strangers – new business clients, blind dates, and even elementary school open houses. We all experience times in life when we must stick our necks out to make new acquaintances.

While it can be intimidating to meet people for the first time, with a little practice and these quick, easy tips, you won’t feel as intimidated next time a party invitation hits your inbox. Maybe you’ll even feel comfortable enough to go solo!

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Roxanne Hale, owner, and broker of Arthouse has spent over 20 years in the real estate business. Here you'll find a collection of stories about buying and selling real estate & home building advice, housing history, and architecture & design tips. Oh, and some fun personal stories every now and then!

Homewood, AL
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