Posted on June 29, 2009 by Colin

Learn 1 Thing from Everyone You Meet

File this under ‘weird things that Colin does for fun at parties.’

In addition to playing the Meet New People game (which I’ll cover in the near future), I make it a point to learn at least one completely new fact from each person I talk to when I’m out networking (also: at a friend’s birthday party, attending a museum opening or really anything else where I come into contact with people).

The facts don’t have to relate to anything in particular and can run the gamut from something you’d learn in a textbook to something you’d learn on prime time television to something you’d learn on the streets.

There are three main reasons why you would want to start doing this immediately:

1. Practice good conversation skills

Good conversationalists are adept at steering a conversation with questions and answers that communicate effectively and concisely while at the same time encouraging the other person to do the same. If you consistently have goals for your conversations (other than ‘learn their name and don’t spill your wine on them’), you will get better and better at both participating in conversations and meeting the goals you set for yourself. Using an artificial (and quite easy to achieve) goal supports this habit.

2. Expand your knowledge

You may be an absolute wizard when it comes to PHP programming or bio-mechanics, but what do you know about basketball? Or estheticians? Or The Hills? It’s okay to have a focus, but it’s important to know as much as possible about as many fields as possible if you intend to be a well-rounded individual. Not only does taking in tidbits of info from all across the board allow you to be a less ego-centric individual (being able to look at the world from other people’s perspective), but you might even learn something that helps you with your chosen focus (who knew that learning something about Game Theory would help you with your sociology thesis?).

3. It’s entertaining

Let’s be honest, no matter how good you know something is for you, it’s difficult to keep it up unless there are explosions or breasts or dancing celebrities involved. Fortunately for all of us, the ‘Learn 1 Thing from Everyone You Meet’ habit is easy to establish and even easier to keep up (you won’t even realize you’re doing it after the first few weeks, and neither will anyone else). It also has the potential to be crazy interesting; I personally have learned a ridiculous amount about subjects I didn’t even know existed simply because I asked the right questions.

Because of these conversations, I could tell you all about historical military tactics, the correct way to fold clothing (by situation), what to look for in a legit precious stone, how authors are treated by various book publishers, the difference between fission and fusion (and how acoustic cavitation relates to them both), who won the latest season of Top Chef, what shoes are currently in style in Spain, how to make a coin disappear through a kitchen table, and thousands of others things that have kept me amused, amazed and infinitely interested in what other people have to say.

In order to get the most from this conversation, you should make sure to ask guiding questions (which lead people toward talking about what they are interested in). Good questions include ‘What do you do for a living?,’ ‘Where did you get that?’ and ‘Oh yeah?’ (I get the best results from that last one, since it leaves things very open ended while at the same time encouraging the other person to continue speaking along whatever vein they choose).

It’s also important to weed out the clutter, which includes unsubstantiated opinions, filler phrases, pleasantries and anything quoted from a movie with high school and college students as a target audience.

Try it out just once and I guarantee you’ll be hooked (and more knowledgeable)!

Let me know how it goes in the comment section below!