Apr 18, 2017

A Simple Hack to Spark Conversations

The phone rang while I was working on an ebook. I had set aside a couple hours to write, but without thinking I grabbed my headset and said, “Hello, Jeremy speaking.”

“Hi Jeremy. This is Jen calling from Pitney Bowes. How are you today?”
Me, “Good.”
Jen, “That’s good to hear. I am calling today about a new promotion we’re running on postage meters. We’re offering two free months off all your mailing …”

I let her ramble on for another minute. When she paused I said, “Sorry. Not interested. Thanks.” And I hung up.

I didn’t give my response a second thought. It just fell out of my mouth like it was an autoresponder. My brain subconsciously assessed the situation, and selected the appropriate response.

We use autoresponders all the time.

If someone asks, “How are you today?”, you have a response for that — good, busy, or great.
If someone asks, “What do you do?”, you’ve got a response for that.
If a door to door salesman knocks on your door to sell you something — water heaters, lawn services, a new roof — you’ve got a response for that too.

Every day we have dozens of interactions that are based on mental autoresponders. Each routine interaction generates a canned response.

You don’t think twice to hold the elevator for someone at your office, and you don’t think about your pin number when you use your credit card. You simply do.

Autoresponders make our lives easier. Imagine how difficult it would be to get through your day if you had to think deeply about each and every interaction. You’d dread the question, “How are you today?” A thoughtful, accurate response to this question every single time would destroy your productivity.

As beneficial as autoresponders are for your productivity, they also dull your senses. Each time you use an autoresponder you are completing a transaction:

  • Getting through a conversation
  • Completing a purchase
  • Social rituals like saying hello or goodbye

Most of the time the autoresponder is the right tool for the job. But what if you want to change behaviors? What if you actually want a person to engage with you?

If you want real engagement, change your autoresponders.

Changing your autoresponders can be easier than you think. You don’t have to rearrange social convention, and create new forms of conversation. Rather, you can change your own canned responses to spark engagement.

The next time someone asks you, “How are you today?”, change your autoresponder. Instead of saying good, busy, or great, I’d like you to respond with a new phrase, “Spectacular.”

Try it out.

Imagine we just met and I ask, “How are you today?”
Now say it out loud, “Spectacular.”

How did it feel to say spectacular? Was it weird? Did it feel odd? If so, that’s great. A little discomfort is a good sign. It’s your body telling you that you’re onto something.

Here’s the neat part of the exercise. When you change your autoresponder it will cause others to react.

People accept autoresponders as easily as they use them. You too will accept an expected response as a natural step in a conversation. When you ask, “How are you today?”, you’re expecting the usual response — good, busy, or great. But an unexpected response will catch your attention.

An unexpected response can disrupt the interaction. People aren’t anticipating “spectacular.” The simple shift in your autoresponder triggers a response. The other person will pause and take notice of what you said, and it may even cause them to inquire why.

Sometimes all that’s need is a little nudge to catch a person’s attention.

Changing autoresponders starts with you. Try the spectacular exercise. Almost immediately, you will notice how changing your autoresponder with an unexpected response can trigger small conversations.

Small conversations are the real benefit of changing your autoresponders. Getting someone to pause and engage with you creates a little space, and that can be all you need to steer the person to something greater: a meeting, a discussion, a sale, or a relationship.

Start with an easy autoresponder:
How are you today?
Spectacular!

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