Tomorrow I take a short train ride with the people who have the most direct influence on my professional life. Help me make friends!
November 18, 2010 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow I take a short train ride with the people who have the most direct influence on my professional life. Help me make friends!

I'm taking a train ride to a business meeting with colleagues and supervisors from my office. What can I do or say to build our relationships?

Hint: I don't know very much about them as individuals, yet.
posted by jander03 to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You almost always do best by asking them about themselves and their opinions and their lives. In a pleasant way, this is a little like conducting an interview. For example, ask them what they want to get out of the meetings, about what they know the people you'll be meeting, and what they've found is the best approach at these meetings. If things get comfortable, you could ask what their Thanksgiving plans are. You could ask about their own professional history at your office, too. Listen well to the answers and ask follow up questions.

It is always interesting how much people relate to others to whom they talk about themselves.
posted by bearwife at 2:15 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Think of something you don't know about the business reasons behind the meeting, or behind the relationship with this particular company, or your company's future in this particular market.

Use them as a resource to learn about all these things. They'll be pleased that they can share their knowledge, you'll learn something and while they are at it they'll get the impression that you're interested in the business and you can think about more than just your own job.

Unless none of these colleagues care about those things at all, in which case ask them about their opinion on a local sports team.
posted by emilyw at 2:34 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Have you all traveled much for the company?"
posted by rhizome at 3:17 PM on November 18, 2010

I agree with bearwife that people really like being asked about themselves. You can ask how x project is going, or why z product was offered. Basically ask questions that your train-mates will know the answers to and that you are (or at least can feign) interested in. Even just talking about the weather (what a beautiful fall day!) can open the door to a lot of information. Do they like fall or dislike it? Are the gearing up for Christmas or oblivious?

Thanksgiving is a GREAT topic (assuming you are in the US), because pretty much everyone in the US celebrates it, and it isn't religion-based.

tl;dr: be personable and friendly, stock up on unoffensive questions, and take advantage of this opportunity.
posted by jeoc at 6:46 PM on November 18, 2010

Alternatively, you could keep quiet and see what office gossip naturally bubbles up. I have found that being away from the literal office loosens tongues, and you can learn a lot of interesting stuff just by sitting quietly by.
posted by jeoc at 6:47 PM on November 18, 2010

If it's a quiet time and a bit of a ride, the hands-down best way to make new friends is have them tell stories. The first one is the hardest. People don't necessarily assume that you want to hear the long version, but ask enough open ended questions and eventually you're hit on something they want to tell you about. While they're talking, let your mind go into 'story mode', loosely defined as the state of half listening, half thinking of stories to tell. Relax. And get excited! INTERRUPT THEM! Just a little bit, so they know you care.

And when their story is done, then it's the next person's turn.
posted by seagull.apollo at 11:59 PM on November 18, 2010

The best business trip I ever had involved a co-worker getting the runs and needing an emergency poop in a field off the highway, while four of us waited in a minivan on the gravel shoulder, trying to look the other way. It was great because it made everyone tell funny poop stories and we laughed for about three hours straight. The pooper himself was pretty deadpan, frank and funny about how awful that experience was, and everyone LOVED him after that. He's always pretty up-front about embarrassing stuff; it puts people at ease and makes them laugh, and, since he's also reasonably competent, he's been very well-promoted throughout his career. I'd attribute his success maybe 40% to talent and 60% to social skills.

What I'm suggesting here is that it can be very beneficial to be genuine, human, informal and down-to-earth, too. Sure, it's good to talk about business strategies and conference jargon, but you may get more mileage out of the moments when your bosses laugh with you than you would out of a polite, professional Q&A. So don't be afraid to make funny comments (ie, brief, specific, honest, and jokey, not negative or complainey) about things like an uncomfortable seat that hurts your butt, or a waiter who looks like Hilary Clinton. Sure, be polite and professional, but don't let politeness bland away your individuality; let your real personality and charm come out to play, too.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:16 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

(And if you work with pseudostrabismus, make sure to keep some T.P. in your briefcase.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:52 AM on November 19, 2010

If you want to make friends, don't talk about work.

However, if you want to make work allies, keep it professional -- or simply keep your trap shut, because no one will disclose secrets down the org chart to someone they don't trust in the first place.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2010

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