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.