A strange encounter at the Piggly Wiggly.

One of the great things about owning your own advertising agency is that you get to decide the rules of operation. I believe businesses should allow team members to construct their work and life schedules into one harmonious whole. I like to get started early each day, and work late. So sometimes I take a little time in the middle of the day for myself. Leading up to the OSCARS my wife and I went to several morning movies at the local Marcus Theater which has $5 movies on Tuesday.  This isn’t work-life balance. It’s work-life integration.

On a recent Friday I fit in a workout over my lunch hour.  Then I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple of things my wife requested. No big deal. After a quick lap around the store I had the 5 things I came for, and I got in line to check out.

This is where it gets interesting.

That’s when Matilda sidled up next to me. She was somewhere north of 75 years old. She rolled up slowly, leaning hard on her cart, as if it was the only thing that prevented her from lying face down on the floor. She rolled really close to me and spoke:

“Can I tell you something? I have 9 kids. 27 grandkids. And 10 great grandkids. There are 11 lawyers in the family. My husband does a lot of research. A lot… And he’ll tell you that the brand of ice cream you have in your cart is the most likely to give you Salmonella!’

I smiled at her and replied enthusiastically, “I know! That’s why I chose this brand!’

Matilda, surprised and somewhat confused by my response continued.

‘The next-worst brand for Salmonella is (BRAND CONCEALED TO PROTECT ITS WELL-EARNED BRAND REPUTATION FROM MATILDA).

Again, I eagerly replied, “I know! That’s the one I am going to try next! I haven’t had Salmonella yet! You only live once, and I want to experience all I can!’

Matilda: (Now snapping at me)  ‘You are just like my son who has been in the hospital for 11 months battling his heroin addiction!’

Hmmm. This was an interesting response. Contemplating that this all started with my brand of vanilla frozen yogurt, I thought that the heroin parallel was a bit of a stretch.

But Matilda wasn’t done.

‘Listen pal! I’ve done more crazy stuff in my life than you ever will! (Um, like confronting me in the grocery store over my choice of frozen yogurt?) I’ve taught over 500 people to water ski!’

At this point I was taking the cashier’s Paper or Plastic quiz.  But Matilda was rolling.  As I quickly finished my transaction and walked towards the exit with my plastic bag of frozen salmonella treats, Matilda shouted at me,

“How many emergency landings have YOU made in an airplane!?!”

I turned around, still smiling, and asked, “As a pilot or passenger?’

Then she scowled at me, lifted her arthritic hand, and raised 2 fingers. I’m assuming this meant. “Peace out Salmonella-Heroin Boy!’ Or maybe it meant ‘I’ve had 2 emergency plane landings! One every 37 years or so.’ Suddenly the sliding glass doors closed between us like the curtain at the end of a play. The matinee was over.

The reason I share this story is because I had to tell someone. It was just too surprisingly random to keep to myself. If you have a flexible workday schedule, you may encounter some interesting people who are running their errands while you are normally at work.  So if you want a little bit more entertainment, go to the grocery store in the middle of the day, throw some vanilla frozen yogurt in your cart and see who wants to chat.

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The one thing you need to know to effectively work a room.

We’ve all been told not to talk to strangers. But I love strangers. The stranger the better. This may be because I have moved a lot. Which means I’ve often found myself amongst people I don’t know. But most people are less comfortable with total strangers than I am. This is probably a good human survival mechanism. A mechanism I lack.

As the Founder of The Weaponry, I know that the ability to talk to strangers is critical for entrepreneurs. If you don’t talk to strangers you are not growing your business. Or helping  anyone else grow theirs. When I meet a potential new client, it is our ability to connect as humans first that leads to us working together.

I believe in building on my strengths. So recently I listened to the audio book How To Work A Room by Susan RoAne.  I figured I would find a valuable new nugget or two.  And I did.

The most important thing I learned from the book is this:

When people find themselves with other people they don’t know, they adopt one of two behaviors:  1. A guest mindset. or 2. A host mindset.

The guest mindset adopts the attitude of the outsider, of the person who waits for others to make the first move. They wait to be introduced, or welcomed or fed. They wait to join or participate until they receive an invitation. If you have a party full of guest-mindsets, you don’t have a party.

The host mindset means you initiate. You welcome others, introduce them, offer them food or drink or a crack at catching the greased pig (depending on what kind of event you typically attend).  You activate the party. If you want to feel at home and enjoy any group of strangers, take on a host mindset.

This is what I do. I just didn’t have a name for it. I don’t wait for someone else to decide whether or not I am worthy to talk to (I probably am not).  I make the first move. I create the introduction. I act as if it were my job to make people feel welcomed.

I’ve found that when you don’t worry about rejection you don’t get rejected. Think of it like a Junior High dance. You just have to walk up to someone and say, ‘Stairway to Heaven is a sweet tune. Let’s dance. And let’s not worry about the fact that this song will gradually speed up, and we’re going to go from a slow dance into a full-on rock song, and we won’t know when we should stop holding on to each other.’ Remember the Stairway analogy. Because holding on to one person too long at a social gathering also becomes awkward.

If you want to enjoy a room full of strangers more, lose the Stranger Danger, and act like it’s your party, your wedding, your conference or luncheon.  Start by introducing yourself to others. Ask people about themselves. So, where are you from? What do you do for work? Where did you go to school?  How do you know the homeowner?  Why are your palms so sweaty?  Why the neck tatttoo?

There are people at every gathering who are just dying for someone else to make the first move. They don’t know they should be doing it. Because they never read this blog. Or How To Work A Room. Or danced with me in Junior High. Help them out. Be a host. They may be extremely interesting or valuable to you. They’re just not comfortable initiating. So you have to be. And you’ll enjoy the rewards.  You never know when that total stranger may have the kindness, connection or kidney you need.