The introvert’s secret to meeting new people

Meeting new people: watching crowds

Why stand back from others when you can join them…on your own terms?

My dinner at The Beirut restaurant in Toledo, Ohio was delicious and entertaining, but also something more. It was a reminder that meeting new people on trips – even business trips – is one of the best parts of travel. People make trips because people are filled with stories. They provide insights into the place that you can glean in no other way.

They are also unpredictable. I can go to Rome and pretty much count on the Colosseum being at least close to what I’ve seen in photos. But I never know what I’ll learn or what great adventures might unfold when I meet someone new.

But what do you do if you’re an introvert and meeting new people feels awkward at best?

I can speak to this because I too am an introvert. I love being with people but then, I hit a point where my energy drops like a fumbled set of car keys. Extroverts, on the other hand, can’t get enough of others: The more people, the more energy. So here’s the introvert’s secret to meeting new people: Take advantage of an extrovert’s desire to engage.

You see, there are more of them (extroverts) than there are of us (introverts) – twice as many, actually. Thus, when you encounter a new person on a trip, your odds are good that he or she will be willing to carry the lion’s share of the conversation. All you have to do is start off with a few introductory questions or remarks and then listen. They’ll likely do the rest. It’s like conversational jujitsu: Use your “opponent’s” strength to your advantage.

With the couple we met in Toledo, once I got the party started with just a few words of welcome and introduction, the husband took over from there. Was I tired afterwards? Yep. Was it worth it? Double yep.

Keep in mind, if you are painfully shy, just saying hello to a stranger can be tough. But it really doesn’t take much. In this case, I merely asked if the couple needed help finding an extra bar stool since initially, only one was available for the two of them. A single question led to another and another and…

All you have to do is be polite (it’s a bit rare these days). Look for an excuse to ask them something or simply say hello. See how they react. If you get a chilly response, let it go. But if you’ve lucked into an outgoing type, feed them a few more questions and then see what happens.

I know this sounds incredibly basic, but I see it all the time on business trips, especially with solo travelers and particularly when the lone traveler is female: the traveler turns inward and never reaches out to others. Clearly, you have to use discretion. But too often we introverts forego truly meaningful encounters because we think a) it will take too much effort, b) we’d rather read the back of the menu, check status updates or messages on our phones or do anything that avoids human contact, c) we don’t know how to engage in a way that doesn’t seem embarrassing, or d) the person near us looks borderline psychopathic or like a salesperson on the road with too many drinks and not enough company.

If point b) is your issue, remind yourself of how meaningful it can be to engage someone new. You never know what you’ll discover. If point d) is your issue, OK, you’re off the hook. Time to find a new seat. But if point c) concerns you, remember this: You’ll likely never see that person again. You’re far from home and a stranger. Plus, how hard is it to ask a question? What do you have to lose? Look on the possible conversation as practice and remind yourself of just how rewarding and interesting people can be.

And speaking of interesting, don’t worry about being that yourself. As the sales manager of a client’s company once told me, he instructs all his sales people to “Be more interested than interesting.” Listen to others rather than talk about yourself. Inquire. Encourage. Learn the art of asking good questions. Receive. The sale’s manager’s advice is good for anyone, extrovert or introvert. Because when you listen, you do learn more about a place (and all the associated people, ideas and insights) than you ever imagined.

Even someplace like Toledo. It never would have made my list of vacation destinations. But now, if a person were to tell me I should go there, I think I would listen to them.

 

Toledo, extroverts and travel

Extroverts and travel - The Beirut bar

View from the bar at The Beirut restaurant in Toledo, OH

Ever watch any of the popular travel videos? If you do, you’d get the impression that travel is the domain of the extrovert. Extroverts and travel just seem to go together. There’s one guide yakking it up with a local merchant. Or another sharing insights with a group of other tourists. And wait! There’s yet another ingratiating herself with a group of men playing backgammon on the street. They make it seem as if meeting strangers is as easy as ordering fast food.

And perhaps it is. Unless, of course, you’re an introvert.

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Toledo, Ohio isn’t someplace I’d likely visit on a vacation. But on a recent work trip to there, I discovered much more than I anticipated. The city itself has an interesting feel. Although its’s been through a lot (it’s only an hour drive south of Detroit and shares that city’s manufacturing highs and lows), there seemed to be a sense of guarded optimism, a refusal to let terms like “rust belt” define it.

After a long day of meetings on this trip, my colleague Josh and I decided to expand our search for a dinner location beyond the Sonic and Bob Evans near our hotel. We went online, read some reviews, found a well-rated restaurant, The Beirut, and were soon on our way there for some Lebanese cuisine.

The parking lot was full and the place was packed – on a Tuesday evening. Good sign. The hostess asked if we wanted to wait at the bar. We followed her to two of the remaining three seats there. A moment later, she informed us that the wait would be longer than planned, but if we liked, we could order and eat there at the bar. That worked fine for us.

Sammy, the bartender (and I suspect, co-owner) quipped with us as we ordered what turned out to be an exceptionally tasty dinner, in my case, succulent pieces of steak on a bed of amazingly good hummus.

Shortly after our food arrived, a couple squeezed in at the bar beside us, the wife taking the remaining bar stool, the husband standing. We began chatting: dinner or drink? Just drinks…tonight. They normally come for dinner on Thursdays. Where you from? Locals. You? Seattle. The husband soon took over and led the conversation.

Josh and I had already felt at home there. But soon, we were like regulars. With minimal prompting on our part, we learned from the couple about the state of the auto industry, about their trips to Europe and Asia, about their son who had once played in a band and traveled the country and about how the actor Jamie Farr (whose character Klinger on the old MASH TV series hailed from Toledo) still does charity work in the area.

As I finished my meal, Sammy asked if I liked it. I held up the plate and commented that I would have licked it if I’d thought I could have gotten away with it. Everyone laughed and Sammy informed me that it would have been completely acceptable. Somehow, with all the good cheer and camaraderie evidenced here, I believed him.

Eventually, we had to leave. But as we started to get up, the husband continued talking, telling us of all sorts of places to see there in Toledo. Behind him, his wife gestured with her hand in a sockless sock-puppet fashion silently mouthing, “Talk, talk, talk.” I sensed this was a familiar, but loving, routine.

Finally, between our movement toward the door and his wife’s now more vocal imploring, we made it out but not before we were invited to go sailing with them if we were ever back there on a weekend. After all, they reminded us, we could find them there every Thursday.

*******

That evening taught me a great deal. Not only about Toledo, but also about how even introverts can gain unique insights into a place through the words and stories of others. But how, if you’re an introvert, do you do this? Find out next time when we explore more about how to get the most from travel, even if you’re not the most extroverted person.