Last month when I was on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, my friends, Avril and Noni, took me out to an Italian restaurant. Seated next to our table was a joyful and exuberant group of young Japanese women. They were laughing and having so much fun as they took pictures of one another and enjoyed their pizza and pasta. Their happiness was infectious.
I leaned over the table and said to Noni and Avril that I would like to introduce myself to the Japanese women and have my picture taken with them. When we finished our meal, my friends and I paid the bill and walked out of the restaurant. The Japanese women had just finished their dinner too and were standing outside taking more pictures.
I decided to approach the group and introduce myself. I told them that I was from the United States then pointed to my camera and asked if Noni and I could have our picture taken with them. They didn’t speak any English yet they knew exactly what I wanted. They giggled with delight and said, “Yes!” They were just as excited to have their picture taken with us as we were with them.
As we said goodbye, I thought to myself, “I’m at an Italian restaurant, with my Australian friends, getting my picture taken with a group of Japanese women. You can’t get anymore diverse than that!”
That’s one reason why I love to travel. I get to meet new people from all across the globe. Wouldn’t it be a kinder, sweeter world if everyone would try new experiences and embrace other cultures?
It’s natural to gravitate toward people who are just like us, but did you know that you do yourself a disservice when you socialize with the same people all the time? When I attend conferences or networking events, I usually see people engage in a behavior I call clustering. This is when people who know one another get into groups, either sitting or standing, while they pretty much ignore everyone else around them. Clustering seems to be a natural tendency. But I say, “Why hang out with those you know or see every day when there are so many new possibilities in the room?”
Maybe our clustering behavior is a carryover from childhood, when we were warned not to talk to strangers; however, staying in familiar territory defeats the purpose of networking and connecting. How else will you broaden your horizons?
If you can’t travel to other countries, try to seek out diversity when you attend parties and networking events. For every social event you attend, I challenge you to deliberately choose to interact with someone you don’t know or would not normally be drawn to. If you’re willing to break out of your comfort zone (or at least stretch it) and initiate a conversation with someone new, you just might learn something new.
Be bold, be brave, and introduce yourself to someone who appears most unlike you, or someone you might otherwise avoid or overlook. Find out what you can about this person. Then as you become more adventurous, spend time with people from as many different professions or cultural and social groups as possible. In time, you’ll discover that having diverse relationships will bring you new ideas, fresh perspectives, and a broader range of opportunities.