A Skill You’ll Never Regret Building
I’ve moved around a lot. I’ve lived in 4 UK cities, about 15 houseshares, and spent time abroad.
At school I moved, too. I went to three different primary schools.
Although this fluidity of movement wasn’t the best when growing up, as an adult it has given me a skill that until quite recently, I took for granted. I just thought it was normal.
In fact, I think this skill is something that once acquired, you’ll never regret building.
It is: learning how to find common ground with anyone.
The more you move and travel, the more you realise — we’re just not all that different.
Sure, we have different cultures, and hobbies, and interests, and personalities, but when it comes down to it, we all have much more in common than we realise.
I can be a chameleon in social situations, changing how I interact to suit the environment. I might have once thought this was a detrimental thing, but it has also given me the chance to gain immense learnings from different cultures, and walks of life. It has helped me understand people better.
I’ve never read ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, but I know that building instant rapport with people is important.
When you have an intention to search for the common ground when you meet someone, you’re actively looking to create a bond, rather than considering how different you are.
Say you meet someone at a wedding. You start chatting, and you realise you have absolutely zero in common. You are opposites, like chalk and cheese.
If you keep asking questions, and listening intently for the answers, you will find some commonality.
There is always some common ground — it might even be that you both love your dog or a particular type of music.
Or, perhaps they went on holiday somewhere you’ve visited. Perhaps they have the same view on the film that’s just been released at the cinema or go to the same gym chain as you. Perhaps, like you, they have a cat called Daisy.
You never know — until you delve deeper.
Finding common ground helps build familiarity and trust.
Even if you don’t want to take the interaction further, it can still be deeply fulfilling.
What do I mean? Well, say you’re at a networking event, or a speed dating event. You have an outcome in mind — to get clients, or to meet a potential love.
Even if in your search you find someone that doesn’t seem on your wavelength, finding common ground can still open you up to connections you would have previously dismissed. Both of you can still get value, even if it goes nowhere.
How can you do this?
Ask questions. Be a listener. Find out what they’re into.
If you’ve had enough life experiences, chances are there will be something you can resonate with them on.
The best way to ensure this happens?
Have a broad and rich life yourself. Read widely, experience much.
Be curious about people, and about life.
That way, you can reach into your mental ‘file drawer’ and share an experience that matches them.
‘Edinburgh’s lovely isn’t it. Did you go to the camera obscura? It’s a really cool observatory!’
‘Yeah, I know what you mean about protecting your brand, in fact I read a story last week about a guy who damaged his brand by ripping off stock travel photos and posting them on Instagram!’ (True story).
People like people who are open.
And what if they’re totally different to you? Still meet them with curiosity. Don’t assume they have nothing to teach you.
Many years ago, I interviewed Chris French, the TV skeptic about the paranormal. What really impressed me about meeting him is that even though he regularly met people who’s views were in stark opposition to his own, he didn’t attack them.
In fact, he was warm, personable and friendly.
So finding common ground can even help resolve obstacles. Sure, Chris engaged in healthy TV debate, but he was really friendly to them off camera.
It all starts with how we believe. If we think we haven’t got any common ground with someone, then we’re more likely to distance ourselves.
With my dad, I’ve hardly any common ground. When I see him, we scrabble around for things to discuss. We don’t see eye to eye on most topics. I don’t talk work, finance, politics, lifestyle, or relationships. Even the things we do both like — comedy, music — we have completely different tastes.
But I know we both like animals, family, and children, so I stick to those subjects, and we enjoy our time together.
Common ground is easy to find when you look for it.
The amount of ‘common ground’ you have with someone might be tiny.
It might be akin to a small square of grass, or as large as a football field.
But if you focus on building instant rapport and finding the common ground with new people, it will be a skill you’ll never regret.