We used to tell the kids who worked for us at our camping and backpacking store, Venture Out, to never assume that they could tell who a person was just by looking at them. We encouraged them to draw people into conversations if the customer was open to that. As a result they'd find out things like the 80 year old woman standing in front of them had completed the Appalachian Trail in her 60s, or the guy who came in to buy climbing rope also worked for the Peace Corps in Africa in the 70s, or the shy woman in front of them was the NC Poet Laureate. It's usually worth it to get out of your comfort zone and strike up a conversation with people.
Some employees were better than others at this but all of them really learned how to engage strangers in conversation. Our employees learned a lot when they worked with us but I can't help but think this particular skill probably turned out to be one of the most valuable.
Don't get me wrong. We had a great head start with our employees. In addition to the standard application for employment, we asked the job seekers to turn the application over and answer the question we'd written on the back. "What was the last book you read and why did you read it?". That question told us volumes about the individual and gave us more insight into their potential than calling their references.
I like talking to people I don't know. There are wonderful things to be learned about people, hidden awesome things that aren't always apparent. Leslie and I went to the Asheville Mall yesterday. We aren't really mall people. The stores all look alike to us, the music is rarely anything we recognize and then there is the whole yucky flu thing. Forget about our background history of self employed retail for more than 20 years. When we got out of retail, I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to shop again. Whoops...digressing, sorry.
Anyway, back to the mall. In one store, while Leslie was trying on clothes, the young woman Anna Kline and I started talking. Turns out she just moved here a year ago to further her musical career! She's also very knowledgeable about the stuff we'd come to the mall to purchase and comisserated with us over how frustrating it was to find what we wanted and the cookie cutter fit that most manufacturers give to women's clothing. She mentioned a couple of websites we might try. I gave her my card and asked if she'd mind emailing those sites and wished her luck on her music career.
By the time I got home she had already emailed not only the sites but also a link to her own website. Grits and Soul, how cool a name is that? Turns out she and her band will be appearing at Jack of Hearts in Weaverville on March 31 and then again at the Bywater Bar in Asheville on April 19! So...onto YouTube and I found a couple of videos to share.
It really is worth it more often than not to drag yourself out of your silent comfort zone and strike up a conversation with people!