Communication is the beginning of any relationship. Those entering the professional field and unaccustomed to networking can benefit greatly from practicing social skills. During my time in school, no professor explicitly emphasized the importance of this skill despite its value. I found that many individuals new to the professional realm struggle with social interaction and would prefer to avoid these settings. Living vicariously through others has never been easier with the advent of social media. This screen time often substitutes for face-to-face socialization. Discomfort with socialization is natural but the advantages of practiced social skills are worth the temporary discomfort.

The best way to start relationships is to make connections in person. Today, you’re more likely to acquire a job through a friend than by sending out scores of resumes. The first step is making that initial friend or acquaintance. Knowing how to confidently approach an individual and begin a conversation can benefit your life both professionally and personally. Despite our increasing inclination to hide behind a screen, people will always be more responsive to a smiling face and a sense of humor.

The main key to building a relationship is to have a genuine interest in any individual. The best conversation starters are simple. One easy way is to compliment the other person. Start by making a simple observation and let their response prompt the follow up questions. Every person has a story and people love to talk about themselves when given the opportunity. Asking opinions are another easy conversation starter.  Accessible questions such as 'what are your thoughts on this firms work' is both appropriate and prompts an easy response.

I was in a Lyft last week and after noticing the baseball game on the radio asked my driver about the score, despite the fact that I have little to no interest in baseball. I left that ride ten minutes later having learned that my driver was once a plain clothes TSA officer who worked with many others to keep the Oakland Airport safe. Not only did I not know this was an occupation, but I was surprised by how many actually fill this role. I was able to learn all of this, all by asking a simple question.

Once you have stated a conversation introduce yourself and actually remember their name. Retaining names or multiple names takes practice but in the future will benefit you greatly. After learning their name use it casually in conversation, this shows you are paying attention and actively involved in your interaction. Everyone has had that moment when someone warmly addresses you by name but for the life of you you cannot remember theirs. It may feel embarrassing if someone remembers you name, but you cannot remember theirs. My dad, a teacher of 35 years, remember names of students he had when he first started. Seeing their faces when he recalls their name shows explicitly how much they appreciate this and instantly creates an air of respect and admiration.

Although starting conversations can be uncomfortable, the practiced result is well worth it. Once you have run into enough awkward situations, you gradually learn how to roll out of them with grace. I once asked my landlord how his wife was and he replied with “yeah, I’d like to know too”. Needless to say, I avoid the topic of wives in conversation now. Once commonalities are found, conversation begins to flow more naturally and the stress of socialization begins to ebb. The more of them you start the more comfortable you will be with approaching just about anyone. This ultimately leads you to well refined conversational skills, giving you an edge in any professional field.