I’m not sure if this is a formula or a mnemonic, or maybe it’s both? Anyway, I find it really useful when I’m in a situation where I’m meeting new people. I should add that I’m not an American so I have no idea how the CIA and the FBI relate to each other. What I do know is that this easy to remember formula gives me a successful way to meet new people without feeling shy or awkward.
To briefly explain the >> in the equation. We know that in maths > means greater than and >> means much greater than. In my world > means better than and >> means much better than. So I could have also said that CIA is much better than FBI.
Anyway on with the explanation. When I’m in a situation where I am meeting new people, either business networking or simply socialising at a party, I find that having a standard way of approaching people takes away a lot of my anxiety and shyness. So what I do is…
- Compliment them on something that I have noticed.
- Introduce myself with a hand outstretched to shake theirs.
- Ask a genuine and ‘open’ question to put them at ease.
The compliment must be a genuine one and not a cheesy or false one. So to give you one or two examples, if I am at a business event and networking I will make a compliment to the person I am approaching about their company if it’s on their name badge and if the company has genuinely done something recently that I have liked. It may be as simple as telling someone that you have noticed how well they are networking or even that you like their attire (as long as you genuinely do, it won’t sound cheesy). In a social context, where you can be more open and relaxed, this might be telling them that they look like they’re having fun, have good taste in fashion, or any one of a number of genuine things that you have noticed.
The introduction doesn’t have to be long-winded and give your life history (that can come later if the conversation develops that way). Simply extending your hand and saying your name is enough (and this is good for both business and social occasions). There may be the odd person (and I mean odd in the truest sense) who may not deal well with you complimenting them and introducing yourself. They may even just blank you and walk away. If this ever happens you must remember that this is their issue and not yours.
When you ask the first question make it open (an open question requires a conversational answer rather than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’) but again make it genuine. So for example in a business or networking context it might be “What brings you to this event?” or “Tell me a little about what makes your company special?” In a social context it might be “So how do you know the host?” or “If you weren’t here what would you usually be doing?”
Here’s a quick piece of advice based on a few years of using this formula. One of the questions that people often ask in both a business and a social context is “What do you do for a living?” I would suggest that you modify this to “How do you spend your time?” that way if someone is a real career person they will probably launch into what their job is and what it entails. But, if they have recently been laid off or have retired or simply that they aren’t very career focussed they can choose another positive activity that they can share with you in response. This is especially true in these times of austerity where people may be between jobs or may be having a tough time with their business.
“So if CIA beats FBI, what’s FBI?” I hear you ask. FBI is what I used to do before I learnt to use the CIA technique, it basically stands for…
- Fumble and mumble my way towards a person or a group.
- Babble about the weather or something else equally as dull and boring.
- Introvert and go quiet when the person next to me didn’t immediately respond and lead the conversation.
I was in a discussion with one of the leading authorities on ‘Networking’ recently and I asked him if he thought that my formula was worth remembering. He said that it was “brilliant and easy” which I took as a massive compliment. He did remind me however that “There isn’t one skill, trait or script that makes a great networker. No, good networking is like a jigsaw puzzle – lots of small pieces slotted together to create the magnificent whole”.
I can understand the comment. My formula isn’t a networking magic bullet. I think that what I have offered in this formula is a piece of the bigger puzzle that he talked about. I hope that if you are like me and that initial 30 seconds where the first impression really counts is one of your biggest networking challenges then this formula will come in handy for you.
So my questions to you are…
1. Where do you think that you could apply the CIA technique and try it next time you are in a business or social situation?
2. How do you feel when you need to mingle with people and you don’t have a strategy like CIA?
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