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A Strategy for When Your Friends Are Chosen for You

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What You Need to Know

  • You can opt out when commuting by train or flying, but that doesn’t work at school sports or dinner parties.
  • School sporting events can be a gold mine for finding prospective clients.
  • Sharing your weekend plans is a good tactic.

A funny thing happened at the gym one day.

I greeted the people I’d met before, asking about their weekend plans. A woman on the elliptical machine started reading off her weekend schedule that revolved around school sports for her children. She didn’t exactly say she had no free time, but she said: “If you have children who are in school sports, every season your friends are chosen for you.” She went on to describe the life of a sideline parent.

What does “your friends are chosen for you” mean? Chance or circumstance has thrown you together. Going back to the gym analogy, if you see someone you would rather not spend time with, you can avoid them by working out in another part of the gym. But in some situations, you are put together and it’s impractical to escape.

For example:

  1. You are a guest at a dinner party or charity gala with assigned seating.
  2. You are a sideline parent at school sports.
  3. When taking a flight, you have a seatmate.
  4. Commuting by train to the office, you tend to share bench seating with the same people.

Circumstance has brought you together. What do you do? Since this might be a “one-off,” you don’t talk business, but you might hit it off and make a social connection that can lead to business. They can make the first move and start asking questions, such as “What do you do?” and “Where do you live?”

How to Act in Different Situations

You might disagree with “I can’t bring up business.” Think long and hard about the Liberty Mutual TV ad featuring the agent and his emu partner on treadmills at the gym. You don’t want to be that person.

  1. You can opt out. When commuting on the train or flying, some people don’t want to be disturbed. They wear earbuds or stare at their smartphone. The message is “leave me alone.” This doesn’t work at school sports or dinner parties.
  2. You can be boring. We have a friend who is an ex-CEO of a publicly traded company. When he would be flying (first class) the person next to him might attempt to start a conversation. If he explained he was a CEO, he knew he would be peppered with questions the entire flight. Instead, he would explain he was a driver for a parcel delivery service and won this trip because he had the longest period without any traffic crashes of all the drivers in the fleet. His seatmate would conclude he wasn’t an important person and leave him alone. Obviously, you wouldn’t lie like that, but it was such a great story, I had to include it. Bear in mind: If the other person took a sincere interest in knowing you anyway, it shows they are genuine.
  3. Look to the left, look to your right. When attending a dinner party or a gala dinner, it’s considered polite to make conversation with the person seated to either side of you. You don’t need to continue it through the evening, but it’s impolite to ignore them. Try not to lean over the person next to you, as if they were an obstacle. If you are talking with someone across the table, bring the person between you into the conversation.
  4. School sports. This can be a gold mine, especially if your children go to an exclusive school. Everyone has a common denominator. They have a child attending the school and playing on the team. Introducing yourself is fine. Complimenting them when their child scores a great play is smart. Carpooling back and forth makes sense too. You would never use your child as a pathway to get business. They can be a pathway to meeting other parents. Children get invited to birthday parties and play dates at other children’s homes. The parents are in the background, socializing among themselves. The parent might be a television personality or a rock star, but they understand the dynamics of school and want their children to have friends.
  5. Commuting. Riding the train to work comes with its own advantages. Let’s go back to the gym for a moment. People ask how I know so much about so many of my gym buddies. I explain that I see them several times a week (just like commuting). It’s easy to pick up a fact here and there and build a complete picture over time. Sharing details of your weekend plans is a good example. When commuting, you don’t need to be onstage volunteering information. You can ask questions. Use the “give to get” strategy. I might volunteer what we are doing over the weekend, then ask about their plans. People love to talk about themselves.

In all these situations you have the opportunity to identify shared interests. There might not be any. If there are some, this can be the rationale for getting together again after the dinner party or going for drinks on the weekend, not just talking on the morning commute.

One last thought: It’s easy and expected to make conversation when no one has anything else to do. The dinner party or the charity gala is a good example. If someone at the gym seems to be doing a timed series of exercises, they don’t want to be interrupted. I’ve made this mistake myself, which is why the gym isn’t included in these scenarios. 


Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.