Wave at the Awkward Surprise Networker
Surprise! You’re networking! Sure, you thought you’d simply ride the morning train on a Tuesday, periodically double-clicking on Instagram memes, and wondering where in the house you left your to-go coffee. But nope – you’re networking instead. Surprise!!!
Recently, my wife and I commuted together on the train. A rarity for us, but we enjoy a nice opportunity for some quality time in 2018 (i.e. showing each other Instagram memes and wondering who was supposed to grab the coffees on the way out this morning).
As we waited for the train, one of my wife’s work friends whom I’ve never met approached with a smile, a salutation, and an introduction. He was kind, engaging, and awake – the opposite of myself at 7am. No matter how prepared or awake I was, I would spend the next 20 minutes networking.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation, going from 0 to 60 on the networking-meter in 3 seconds, just remember to WAVE.
I created WAVE as an acronym to remember the four main questions/topics to ask whenever I’m surprise networking. Memorize the WAVE, practice the WAVE, execute the WAVE, and never get caught with your networking guard down.
“Where do you work?”
“So what do you do for X Company?”
In the case of my wife’s work friend, I already know where he works and what he does, so I might start with:
“How long have you worked there?”
“Do you enjoy it?”
When discussing careers, keep in mind that people may love their job, hate their job, or be otherwise indifferent. Discuss work with an ear for the latter two possibilities. If you get a few “eh, it’s not that interesting” or “work is work” comments, move quickly to the next topic.
“Are you from this area originally?”
Learn a little about where this person grew-up and what brought him/her to the area. If you’re prepared, feel free to parlay this conversation into a discussion of local sports teams.
“Oh you’re originally from northern New Jersey? You’re not a Giants fan are you?”
Just remember not to go overboard on the sports talk.
[editor’s note: If you haven’t figured-out already, my “Area” is the only place in the world that loves this guy – Surprise! #Gritty4pres ]
If you haven’t seen my 2-minute video on the power of “Have you gone on any vacations lately?”, then check it out. Asking someone if they’ve gone on any vacations lately or if they have any vacation plans in the future is not only a fun question that makes someone smile, but also, the response will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about the person’s family life.
Here are just a few examples:
Tammy: “Well, my husband and I just celebrated our 5-year anniversary in Paris. But now we’re just back to work, dreaming of our next vacation.”
Triggers: Married, never mentioned kids (maybe ask a few more scoping questions to confirm no kids, inquire about husband)
Maria: I have a bachelorette party coming up in Vegas. I’m a little nervous, I’ve been in mom-mode for a couple years and having a tough time switching back to single party-mode.”
Triggers: At least one child, possibly recently single (ask how many kids and who’s watching them to confirm marital status)
Jason: “My husband and I just went to the Bahamas. It was our first time away with little Jeremiah, but he did great!”
Triggers: Gay, married, possibly adopted a child (ask about Jeremiah, inquire about husband)
I know this exercise may feel cold, calculated, and contrived, but remember the innocence of your intentions. All you’re doing is creating open and honest conversation with people while preventing you and them from an awkward situation.
Imagine if you regaled Tammy with stories of your kids, not knowing her and her husband have been trying to have kids for years.
Imagine if you complained about your spouse in jest to Maria, not knowing she is in the midst of an agonizing divorce.
Imagine if you asked Jason what his wife does for a living or after learning he was gay assumed he wasn’t a parent.
All of these situations could destroy our confidence, yet are easily avoidable.
I didn’t intend to make this section a larger societal thesis on unconscious bias, but rather, highlight the importance of asking this silver bullet question to find more about an individual’s family and life stage before assuming theirs is the same as yours.
OK, let’s do one more for fun…
Bryce: “Well, I don’t really ‘plan vacations’, I kind of just let them happen when they happen, ya know? But uh… I guess the last time I traveled was like 3 weeks ago when I went skiing with a few bros in the Alps for a quick weekend getty (abbreviation he made up for ‘getaway’).”
Triggers: Old money, has lots of bros on Wall St and in Silicon Valley, has so many Instagram followers it will make you sick (ask him what business his parents own, if he’s ever thought about building an app, and try to get on that next ski trip, bruh #getty)
“I’m exhausted… accidentally got caught in a binge-watch vortex last night. Have you ever watched (insert show)?”
“What’s going on this weekend? Anything fun?”
“I was at the Eagles game yesterday – what a disappointment! Did you catch that game by chance?”
Entertainment questions are great because they’re light and easy, but there is also a good chance you’ll pluck the right chord and identify a major talking point.
For instance, if you mention the Bachelor/Bachelorette around me, it’s over. I know EXACTLY who’s there for the wrong reasons, and we’ll talk about each of them til one of us dies of exhaustion.
So the next time you’re surprise networking, don’t forget to WAVE, and don’t forget to let me know how it works!