What’s your SQ (Stranger Quotient)?


What’s your SQ (Stranger Quotient)? When you pass someone in the street, walk into a mixer or enter into a crowded elevator do you speak? How likely are you to engage in conversation with the clerk behind the counter, the artist at the fair or the person standing next to you in line? Up until very recently my SQ has been embarrassing low (I know, hard to believe, right?). I’ve watched enviously as people around me effortlessly connect with strangers. How do they do it?

I’m not shy. In fact, most people would say that I am wildly outgoing. And, much of the time, that’s absolutely true. More often than I like to admit, however, I am not the bubbly, friendly, confident people-person that I seem to be.  There are exceptions but, although I am almost always comfortable and gregarious in front of a large audience, the prospect of talking in small groups or with individuals I don’t know makes me a nervous wreck!

I’ve always envied people who can confidently strike up a conversation with a stranger. Whether it’s at a party, a trade show or standing in a line at the post office, there are those among us – maybe YOU – who eagerly engage in small talk with strangers. What a gift!

Although I haven’t yet figured out where my debilitating discomfort comes from, I do have my theories. It’s possible, I suppose, that it’s a direct result of the ‘stranger danger’ that we were all warned about as children. But, as a child of the 50’s and 60’s… it’s not likely. Back then it was considered courteous and kind to befriend someone new. My grandma was constantly bringing home a hungry stranger she met on the bus! And even today I know people who just seem to make new friends wherever they go. How do they do it? What’s stopping me?

Okay, I often say that ‘understanding’ is the boobie prize (unless, of course you use that understanding to change or create a new behavior that works for you). So, I decided to officially give up the ‘why’ and move directly into the HOW. How could I be the person who enjoys meeting and talking to someone new; someone who’s ‘brave’ and willing to start a conversation with a stranger… and feel really good about initiating it?

That’s actually the question I posed to myself as I started my month long adventure on the road – traversing across America. There was almost an obsession on my part to meet and greet, to interact and to connect with the proverbial strangers in my path.

Serendipitously, I was travelling with an expert in the realm of ‘talking to strangers’. My friend, Marita, is wildly gifted at engaging ‘newbies’ in conversation, so I decided to observe and copy! Here’s what I learned:

  • Start with a smile! (It makes them and you feel more at ease.)
  • Comment on something you have in common… might be the weather, the locale or the current situation.
  • Be interested. (Ask a question and LISTEN to the answer.)

It was astounding to me that it could be that simple, but it truly was.  And the result??? Nothing short of terrific. By connecting with the strangers around me I was ‘gifted’ with insights (most people really want to talk to you), information (about my surroundings and great restaurants) and (dare I say it) joyful opportunities (to meet foreign travellers and hold a Big Horned Owl on my arm) and that I would have otherwise missed.

Turns out that there’s great value for all parties when ‘stranger danger’ disintegrates. When’s the next party? The next trade show? The next mixer? The next social gathering? Bring it on… I am SO ready to engage!!


Use Clarity to Get What You Want – When They’re Not Getting It. What Do I Say, What Do I Do?

You get what they think they heard

The value of clarity in communication

It’s possible that, all by itself, the title of this blog could eliminate the need for the entire blog. Read it again. The title actually spells out two of the most powerful and effective tools for getting THEM to get YOU: Communication (clarity) and Action!

That was NOT a spoiler alert. I simply told you what I was going to tell you ‘cuz that’s good communication. When I truly care about having someone accurately and fully receive my communication which, I must admit, is most of the time, I tell them what I’m going to tell them. Then I tell ‘em. And finally I tell them what I told them.

Okay, it’s possible that, by following this formula, you could over-talk a topic to its early demise, I’ll give you that… but when I want to get a point across or it’s important for me to have someone do something by a certain time or in a particular way, this works. Whether I’m coaching, teaching, training – or making an important request – I do all this PLUS I add another vital step. I have the listener repeat back what they heard.

I didn’t always follow this formula… and I didn’t always get the results I wanted, either. When I had my event and party business it was not unusual for me to say, “Somebody grab some tools, please (politeness was one of my boss-virtues)”.  And then, when a fully stocked toolbox didn’t show up on the job and I didn’t have my desperately needed scissors, wrench or clips, guess who was stressed and furious…  but where could I point that fury? Who was supposed to grab the toolbox? Right, I had assigned the job to “Somebody”. Where the heck was “Somebody” and why didn’t she do what I asked her to do?

Doesn’t the problem, my mega-mistake, seem so obvious to you? You can clearly see that assigning the task to a specific person, not making a general, non-specific public request/announcement, would have made a huge difference to my end result, can’t you? Because it was me and my screw up – and you’re listening to this story in retrospect, it’s easy to identify the error of my ways. Much easier than it might have been to actually get it right in the first place. At this moment, it’s easy to see that I didn’t actually assign the task to anyone – though I didn’t realize that at the time. And, yet, I was surprised when what I wanted and needed didn’t get done and upset when there was no one to hold accountable… except me!

Now, don’t be feeling all superior and stuff. I’m not the only one here who’s ever been vague, unspecific or incomplete with my requests, directions or instructions, am I? Come on, I know there have been times when the recipe didn’t come out quite right because you forgot to tell them about that one important ingredient or you didn’t show up for something because you misheard the time.

Life is a game of telephone. It’s only by being clear and specific and repeating back what we heard that we can even begin to expect the results we’re after. So often we give only partial instruction or explanation and expect people to get the whole story by mind reading… Newsflash: THEY WON’T because they CAN’T!

And then there’s ACTION! That’s the follow through; the accountability. Where you are ultimately responsible for the outcome it’s to your advantage to make sure that you do everything possible to make sure that the outcome is favorable. My taking action started by writing out a check list and assigning one person to see that we never left on a job without having everything we needed.  (And there was always a compliment for a job well done!)

When you use full and complete communication to ask for what you want and then actively follow it up with some checks and balances, you do get what you want and need. Communication and Action… two tools that belong in every personal toolbox!



Oh, You Don’t Say! I Thought I Didn’t Hear Something.

Dr, Seuss

When he brought me that first box of chocolates – that very first time – I should have said, “Thanks, but I don’t eat candy and I don’t do chocolate.” But, it was so sweet of him and he looked so pleased with himself and I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I just said “thanks” and offered him a piece. On Valentines’ Day he sent me a dozen long stemmed CHOCOLATE roses… and I politely called to say “thanks” – grateful that he’d be out of town and not notice that they hadn’t been eaten. But when he showed up with two-dozen chocolate dipped strawberries on my birthday, I lost it. Somehow I made him the bad guy for not knowing that I didn’t eat candy. No, I never told him… but he should have known! I mean, really, if he truly cared about me… Needless to say, we aren’t ‘together’ any more.

My ex sister-in-law (who is, coincidentally, also my ex best friend) is in a coma and I honestly don’t know why she hasn’t spoken to me (except for a second at her dad’s funeral) since her brother and I split up ten years ago. Though I didn’t call her, I did make two somewhat awkward written attempts to reconcile over the years, but she didn’t acknowledge either. Then I sent a letter when I heard about her cancer and an email when she went into remission. She never responded. Word is I won’t get a chance to talk to her now…

If she had just told me that she was a vegan, instead of trying to be the perfect ‘trouble-free’ guest and cause no hassle, I would have made something that all of us could eat and enjoy. Instead, she said nothing; ate only bread and butter and a little salad (picking out all the ‘bad’ stuff). I felt like the world’s worst hostess and she wasn’t feelin’ so great, either!

He was one of my oldest, dearest friends so I guess I cut him more than a little slack. I didn’t tell him how much it upset me when he changed his plans to do something with me at the last minute or showed up hours late.  I guess I figured it was ‘just the way he was’ and there was nothing I could do about it. Besides, on some level, as miserable as it made me feel, I did think that his life was somehow more important than mine. So I just ‘sucked it up’ and said nothing. When I finally did snap (right after I wrote the blog about boundaries – coincidence???) I let him have it with ‘both barrels’! And, by the way, after a bit of a cry, we’re now closer than ever!

My mother (who will be 93 this year) has always ‘just sucked it up’. ‘Guess that’s where I learned to do it. This wonderful lady mastered the art of seeming to be unimportant. Rather than say what she wanted, needed or felt, for her it has always been about someone else. She made herself ‘less than’ so someone else (usually my father) could be ‘more than’. Throughout the last 50 or 60 years, no matter what was going on, she was ‘fine’ (which, I’m sure, is why I detest that word!) and no matter what she wanted or needed, she said ‘nothing’, asked for nothing and generally refused whatever she was offered. I think it’s fair to say that I have developed a tendency to ‘over-share’ and speak my mind as a backlash to watching my mother train others to undervalue and disrespect her. Now, in her ‘twilight’ years, still quietly (or silently) declaring to the world that she is unimportant, she cannot understand why no one seems to put her first.

I admit it, there are those times when, either fearing that I will make an enemy, or make a fool of myself, I withhold. Not wanting to be judged by others, I judge myself and sentence me to silence.

You’d think that we humans would be savvy enough to say what we mean, mean what we say and ask for what we want and need, wouldn’t you? So, what gets in the way? Dr. Seuss knew…  “Be who you are and say what you feel… because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind!”