I distinctly remember the day like yesterday, the year was 1999, I was sitting in front of my desktop and visiting a web page that was recommended to me. Once I typed the name, what I saw as the landing page surprised me! Those days, nobody left 90% of prime real estate blank. I was impressed by the antithesis of the times. Two geeks, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were audacious enough to back their search algorithm with a white (blank) canvas that created a singular focus on their product. The white canvas, powerful in its simplicity, drew me as much as their better working search algorithm. Years later, the white canvas still lingers in my memory as self contradictory — stares on my face yet blends in the background!
White Canvas and Silence: Framing Conversations Differently
My wife and I have done many long car rides. Through the years, we have listened to music from cassette players to the latest gadgets and we have had our share of hearing heart wrenching news on radio. Many a times, sometimes long stretches, we just rode in silence, oblivious to the passage of time. The silence reminiscent of the blissfulness in a comfortable relationship, reminds me of the white canvas that blends in the background.
Yet, the same silence stares on my face during the initial moments of meeting a new person — uncomfortable moments. I seem to recall those moments in great detail -time seems to stand still with all the awkwardness and I am almost always searching for my own page rank search algorithm within the swathe of white canvas- too tongue tied to kick start a conversation.
Traditional advice for managing conversations, at least the majority of what I have read, talks about silence like the white space between words on a traditional web page clutter. What if it is flipped like a Google front page?
In that case, my focus is on a few powerful, meaningful words at my end of conversation. This approach seamlessly fits in the conversational style of a stereotypical geek who is predominantly quiet in unfamiliar relationship settings and yet naturally inquisitive.
I have been experimenting with this conversation framework in different situations and wanted to share an “algorithm” while developing new business connections — connections who can grow into sponsors or weak ties.
Business Connection Experiment : Few meaningful words within canvas of silence
Here are a few words to kick start a face to face conversation with a new business connection, just after the initial name exchanges.
- Where do you work?
- What inspired you to do what you do?
- What do you like about what you do?
- What was it like when you started doing that?
I need to thank Michelle Golden’s TEDx talk (about 10 minutes into the presentation) that exposed me to these four questions. Michelle’s brilliant rationale behind question 4 is that it makes the business connection dig deep to reflect their own journey and implicitly creates a rapport with the “questioning listener” who makes them do that — something great reporters deeply understand.
The best part is that “questioning listener” need not showcase any knowledge and yet the silence, between the questions, builds the foundation for furthering the relationship.
My Experimental Observations
Traditionally, people view silence as one among the many resources in conversations- it is often deemed as the scarce one. Just by looking at it as the white canvas of my conversations and embellishing it with few quality words, it has changed my viewpoint. My takeaways:
1) Silence is a barometer of relationships. Less conscious you are, greater the strength.
2) Silence is like the salt in food, not talked about unless it is over or under seasoned.
The moments when it is perceived as over seasoned- the exact food is forgotten in the long term but not the experience!
However, in this information laden world, it seems to be under seasoned most of the times. The cool part is that many are gifted with it- experiment with it as the white canvas and have fun building new relationships.
I enjoy writing at the intersection of analytics and human relationships.
My back story, if you wonder who this writer is