Starting Relationships with Strangers is Easier Than You Think:
Here are some tips to start the conversation

I wrote this week’s Bench Marks blog in an Airbnb condo around the corner from the beach in Waikiki, Hawaii. I had just returned from my first luau. I was told it was a unique experience and a smaller affair than a typical luau; hosting only about 40 people rather than the hundreds that can be at a larger event. 

I had already planned on writing something for this post about interpersonal relationships in anticipation of the upcoming three-part personal development lunch and learn series that I’m offering, starting on February 16th. After reflecting on how the evening unfolded, I realized this was the perfect micro-experiment in relationship building and culture.

Here’s what happened, followed by some takeaways. 

My travel friend and I booked a luau and transport on the recommendation of the condo concierge. When we arrived (only a few minutes late after first going to the wrong pick-up point), we were greeted by the driver, showed our vax cards, and jumped into the van, which was already loaded with the 8 other passengers. 

As we  started off, the  driver explained  that a luau is traditionally a family event. He went on to say that luau’s are also typically attended by 100 people or more, whereas ours was only about 40, as I mentioned previously.  He said everyone in the van was going to become like family and that we would all be dancing together by the end of the night. It felt like we were all a bit skeptical, I know I was. 

At that point, there was very little talking between the passengers. The driver started pointing out the sites and asking people where they were from. The first responses were very matter-of-fact. One person said he was from Rochester, New York. The responses continued to be straightforward, until I said I was from Syracuse, New York. The Rochester man was super excited about our regional connection and we cracked a joke about everyone back in Central New York dealing with snow while we’re headed to hula dances and mai tais. Building on this, the next couple stated that they were from Canada! To this, everyone laughed because we all know it’s even colder there. My friend proceeded to talk to the woman next to her about where she was from and the conversations grew from there, often based on questions the driver was asking. 

Fast forward to the end of the evening and, sure enough, we were learning to hula with an entire table of new friends just as our driver said we would. This was no accident. The hosts were entertaining and encouraged us to introduce ourselves, speak our newly learned Hawaiian words to each other, and they intentionally sat people together with commonalities. They even had a few games set up so we could interact. All of this created an atmosphere that encouraged engaging with each other.

Tips for meeting new people. These will work just as well on your next vacation as they will in the workplace: 

  • Be open to making new connections. Attitude is everything. 
  • Get the conversation started by asking questions. 
  • Keep the conversation going by asking more questions. 
  • Listen. Keep an ear out for even the tiniest connection. It doesn’t take much to find a connection with someone that could lead to a lifelong friendship, or at least just a pleasant interaction. For example, I exchanged pictures of my cat with a woman who also owned two cats.
  • Give compliments. My friend makes friends with everyone by telling them how much she loves something about them (usually their shoes, dress, or hair).
  • Be generous. What you give comes back to you. Not only did my friend get a second and really exceptional lei from our van driver, we were given free rides, secret tips from locals, and even free pineapple smoothies from people we’ve chatted up on trails and in lines. 

The biggest takeaway from this experience was that you have two options in a situation where you’ll be forced into a group of strangers (like starting a new job or volunteering at the food bank). You can choose to go it alone and that might be fine for you. Or, you can choose to be open to making new connections. If you go with the latter, I hope these tips will help you make a new friend or build a bond with a coworker.