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How to Be Awesome at Followup

How to Be Awesome at Followup

    Photo by Marloes

    Most people are unexceptional at following up: it sounds obvious, but it shouldn’t be this way, because followup (I spell it as a single word) is key to combining smaller achievements into bigger ones. Actively following up on conversation is also a trait of people who’re successful, focused, and relentless about living their dreams. Lofty yet elegant — and if you excel at followup, you can be sure to incite delight wherever you go, too.

    “Correspondences are like smallclothes before the invention of suspenders; it is impossible to keep them up.” -Sydney Smith

    Here’s how I do it. You’ll need to find ongoing processes that work for you, but the main ideas are easy to get into!

    Don’t be the first to reply (or at least, give it a little while)

    This sounds counterintuitive. Say you get a work email Cc:ed to you and several other colleagues. Should you reply right away? Unless you’ve already thought of a sure answer and/or it’s time-sensitive, likely no. Let it “stew” and even wait for someone else to reply first — you can star it in Gmail and check the thread a day or so later.

    Why? First, you’ll be less rushed. That much is clear. Second, by letting it simmer, your mind will have more space to digest the contents. You’ll be able to sleep on it, and if it’s really a memorable email you need to give input on, your feedback will be richer and more worthwhile than something concocted in haste. Third, you can also thank the person(s) who did reply first for chiming, and consider their ideas — if they said what you had in mind, you save time, too.

    A day isn’t too long anyway, and plenty of time to still be responsive. Try it!

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    (Granted, this won’t work if all your coworkers read this… you may want to keep it a secret! ;) )

    Be a batch-processing, pirate-ninja hybrid

    Some people say ninjas are the awesomest. Others will argue it’s pirates. I like to consider what would happen if you combined both their traits: the sleek stealth of a ninja paired with the skilled sailing of a pirate.

      Photo by hober

      What do you get? Well, it doesn’t sound as exciting as life on the high seas assassinating renegade ronin, but here’s what I mean:

      When you get cool links shared with you, be they viral videos or articles of interest, they can be time-suckers and distractions from making progress on what you’re doing now. Sure you wanna check those links out, but not yet. Instead of jumping on them right away, I use Firefox 3’s star icon on the location bar (aka “awesomebar”) to bookmark each page with a single click to an Unsorted Bookmarks folder. You can access it later by going to Bookmarks menu > Organize Bookmarks, as this lovely video tutorial will show you:

      This is exactly what I’ve been doing for several weeks, and I find myself a nice berth on the weekends to chillax and peruse through one link after another. I get deeper into the content. Some are blog posts which merit a comment from me (a type of followup). Others are clips I want to pass around. And the rest which aren’t worth my time? They get deleted and forgotten. Which is fine.

      Related suggestion: save up video clips to watch on TV. I do this with my wife: we unsubscribed from cable and line up YouTube & friends’ madness to watch at dinner (and other times). With a DVI to video cable, we connected a MacBook Pro to our TV. Not only did it save us money, it makes us less passive selectors of what we consume, and raises the quality of our entertainment. And sparks discussion and sharing — followup!

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      By creating an intense, focused space for all this material, it places your experiences directly in-context of being receptive to both absorbing and feeding back information.

      Clip it… to remind yourself!

      There’s no end of to-do reminder programs out there. My means are simple: I use Google Desktop’s To Do gadget (included with default install) which always sits on the left-hand sidebar of one of my dual monitors.

        I quickly jot down short phrases when I’m in a rush, then have the leisure of expanding on it later — you and even drag-and-drop to recorder, and affix manual [TAGS] for visual ease. By now, you’re noticing this and the previous 2 sections are about you controlling time.

        In addition to bookmarks, I use Firefox’s Scrapbook add-on for saving parts of webpages to read offline and refer to later (it has a handy annotation feature which can highlight passages but I don’t use that), and EverNote (the offline app, not the version 3 beta). My point being: you don’t need the most feature-filled tools, just ones you habituate to using regularly.

        For time-specific, recurring stuff, you’ll want to set up alarms and appointments. I use Google Calendar to remind me when to pay the bill and when I might expect mail-in-rebates to arrive (so I can call if they don’t) — and oh yeah, it’s very nice that Google Desktop also has a Calendar gadget which shows me the day’s events. It’s unintrusive, clean, and saves me daily refreshes of the Gcal webpage, which is what most people do. Don’t be most people.

        I’m also searching for a simple, cheap, spontaneous voice recorder. Got suggestions? This may be overkill for some folks, but if you’re like me and have ideas sprouting out at odd hours of the day, you’ll want to capture those sprouts because your creativity is worthwhile.

        Respond to the best

        What the heck does that mean? Simply, pay attention to remarkable, amazing comments. And thankfully I’ve seen a lot of them on Lifehack, like Shanel Yang’s. ;) Not all comments are equal and most aren’t worth followup, as a casual glance of YouTube vs. Flickr can show.

        But when there are:

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        • Eclectic questions you’ve never heard before (consider making a FAQ out of the ones you do get often)
        • Knowledge that adds to the value of your or someone else’s post and makes it that much more useful, and
        • Observations which have a inimitable brand of humor…

        That’s what you’re going to remember. Those words, connected to those people, is what’s worth continuing a discussion for.

        The simple reason is: those people are more likely to followup with you, teaching you applicable knowledge and making you smile. The best followup, as all healthy relationships are, is reciprocal. Give and take. If you’re drained without inspiration, you won’t have the attitude and enthusiasm to followup.

        Don’t force yourself to be social, it serves no earnest purpose and will eventually be forgotten anyway in the sea of the Internet. Time, once spent, is always depleted. If you get a lot of thank-you’s for something you posted, don’t be pressured to type a different thank-you to each and everyone. You could, if you’re imaginative and feeling lively. But don’t force it out — flow.

        You’ll learn from experience, as I have over 10,000s of forum posts and blog comments (and having earned distinguished status like being a Lifehacker star), what followup you get in kind.

        Use subscribe/keyword reminders whenever possible

        Obvious but underused, in my anecdotal experiences asking people if they utilize ’em.

        Don’t be passive: seek out integrated reminder systems! Many different web services have various implementations. You may be a forum poster accustomed to vBulletin’s subscription system, or you may use email/RSS alerts (different ways of getting the same info) on a money-saving site like dealnews.com — which is a lucid way of following up on an item you’ve wanted to buy for awhile, but think it should be cheaper. Give it time and you’ll be pinged when the price drops — Price!pinx is another tool that can help you.

        I also have a bookmark folder in Firefox called “Waiting for Answers“. It’s a very special one, and I drop links to questions I’ve asked on forums, blogs, etc. I detest when the trail goes cold to my curiosity, and I check this folder every few days. If longer than a couple weeks goes by without a reply, I’ll post a reminder to “bump” things up. Stuff resolved to my satisfaction of course gets a thank-you, and the bookmark is placed in a subfolder titled “ANSWERED”.

        Also useful for customer support tickets!

        Don’t say “Let’s do lunch sometime” if you don’t mean it

        This is mainly about your offline life: “false followup” is worthless.

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        Don’t tell a new acquaintance you want to have coffee at some indefinite point in the future if in your heart, you won’t.

        Some will argue “this is being polite”. I’ll clarify that politeness means not lying to someone if you have no intention of keeping a commitment. There are many other things you can say, and the easiest of all is saying nothing at all and smiling.

        Economy of words frees your energy for acting on things that matter more.

        Indulge in necessary terseness

        It’s better to be pithy than, well, something rude which almost rhymes.

        Followup is largely about (conversation) flow, and tl;dr work against being an effective communicator. Be colorful, be engaging, but don’t be boring. Like music, have a sense of dynamics, don’t engage in loudness wars.

        Instead of monolithic, gargantuan writings, divide ideas into sections or multiple installments, as we’ve seen from some of my fellow Lifehack contributors. That has the benefit of attracting ongoing readers and allowing them to digest your opinion. Again, it’s about controlling your time.

        “Chop the slop!” -Torley

        If the above wasn’t what you expected yet you’ve come away with some fresh recipes for followup, awesome indeed!

        Unleash your experiences in the comments and let me know what you’re thinking… and are going to followup on.

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        Last Updated on January 15, 2019

        How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

        How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

        Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

        In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

        Step right up, don’t be shy!

        Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

        The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

        Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

        Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
        So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

        A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

        Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

        Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

        When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

        Culturally Conditioned

        We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

        I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

        The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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        Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

        Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

        Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

        1. Broadens Your Network

        After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

        2. Improves Your Communication Skills

        I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

        Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

        3. Continually Learning

        So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

        Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

        4. Increases Self Confidence

        Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

        Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

        So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

        How to Talk to Strangers

        Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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        1. Say Hello

        Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

        Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

        Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

        2. Ask About Them

        Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

        You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

        As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

        3. Just Do It

        One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

        When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

        Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

        4. Don’t Take It Personal

        One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

        When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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        5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

        I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

        One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

        6. Detach

        A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

        Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

        7. Share Your Stories

        Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

        To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

        So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

        8. Give a Compliment

        Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

        When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

        9. Relax Your Body Language

        If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

        When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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        If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

        10. Practice, Practice, Practice

        Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

        Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

        After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

        The Bottom Line

        As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

        There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

        Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

        Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

        More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

        Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

        Reference

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