X: How to transform strangers into companions?

BNI Sosebenza
With every successful encounter we build confidence and invest in our business. We contribute a little bit to the 'better world'.

Interesting words start with an X, like ‘xenophobia’.

In SA, regrettably, we are very familiar with what ‘xenophobia’ means and how it manifests in extreme ways, when what belongs to strangers who are seen as a threat is destroyed. And worse.

>BNI as a business community embraces the opposite mindset: inclusiveness.

This makes it possible to for us to build business constructively. We have practical guidelines that start with converting the visitors to our chapter into members of our chapter. Our Regional Director, Butch Coetzee, is big on this – pushing us to apply the basics!

‘The first step is for everyone to take responsibility for welcoming strangers and making them feel at home. When visitors arrive at any event with lots of people and they don’t know anybody, they would probably welcome you reaching out to them.’

Many people actually stay away from attending any gathering where they don’t know anyone. 

This anxiety is no doubt a mild form of xenophobia, which is innate in us. It’s part of our instinct to protect ourselves against dangers coming out of the unknown. 

When we are forced into a situation where we must interact with strangers, most of us feel slightly out of our depth – until someone breaks the ice.

As BNI networkers, we really must practise our icebreakers. The fear of not knowing what to say must be replaced by the simple method of asking questions.

  • How was the traffic?
  • Where is your business located
  • Have you been in our venue before?

It’s amazing that asking questions such as these can kick-start your conversation. We all have such basic social skills!

Reaching out to a BNI visitor through some small talk is never futile. It presents an image of us being accommodating at BNI and it simply increases the chances that a visitor will relax during the meeting and take in as much information as possible. Not only is welcoming a stranger the right business card for a business network – but it also builds a little bridge over the apprehensions of ‘xenophobia’.

The stats are showing that our chapter has an above average retention rate. This means we have formed a trusted network of quality. We really enjoy our meetings together and they are prime examples of how to mix fun and function. The side-effect can be that we are too involved with our internal contacts to pay due recognition to newcomers. Let’s watch out and not become complacently self-centered!

I’d like to quote further recommendations from our Regional Director:

‘Enthusiasm sells. Your energy and enthusiasm during the meeting will be the biggest decider for a visitor. Before they think about the benefits for their business, they have to decide whether or not they’re going to deal with you – and that comes down to: ‘Do I like you, or not?”

One of the strongest assets of our chapter is that as partners in business, we also care about each other. 

To operate in the wilderness of business from a solid base camp means not only taking to heart our business operations, but also our fellow campers.

That’s actually the pointer to Xanadu. Something very different from Xenophobia, also spelled with an X!