While growing up in southern Mississippi, I considered basketball a boring time-killer until football spring practice rolled around. Years later, in my first career as a college administrator, I heard a phrase mentioned by people at the conference I was attending in another region of the country: “March Madness.”I wondered, is this a seasonal disease? Next the lunch discussion turned to the “sweet sixteen.” That sounded nice, but what was it?
As I continued to listen, I learned they were talking about college basketball. I could have alienated myself from the group quickly by saying, “I’m not a basketball fan.” Instead, I asked questions, started reading that section of the sports page later that day, and at least learned the names of star players and major teams.
“I’m not a basketball fan” would be equivalent to saying:
“I’m not a baseball fan” when the World Series approaches.
“I’m not a golf fan” when The Masters nears tee time.
“I’m not a soccer fan” when the World Cup begins.
“I don’t follow pro football” at Super Bowl time.
Other current analogies outside of sports that would disqualify you from establishing rapport and credibility:
“I don’t follow the presidential campaign.”
“I don’t keep up with stock market fluctuations.”
“I haven’t heard about global warming.”
So whether you are in sales, management, marketing, advertising, human resources, teaching, consulting–or any other field that involves human interaction—realize that before you can get people vitally interested in your idea, service, or product, you have to start listening to and talking about their current interests. Yes, often your informed small talk about the other person’s interest opens the way to big talk about hiring, contracts, mergers, and acquisitions.
To broaden your knowledge of current events, start reading the newspaper sections you have skipped. Browse Internet news to see what’s happening in entertainment, fashion, international relations, health, finance, and other areas you have neglected. Note daily what twitter identifies as “trending.” Keep attuned to what your morning coffee pals are chatting about. Soon you will improve your reputation, rapport, and results.
Oh, just so you’ll know, I’m still not a basketball fan. But I can talk with people who are.
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