Happy Australia Day. This time last year I attended a ceremony to welcome new Australians into our country – and I got a different perspective on the day. As all the dignitaries gave their welcome speeches to the new citizens, I looked over at my friends and thought (nice as that was) that it's really us ordinary people who can be welcoming and help others feel at home.
There's a lot of meeting new people this time of year, so you could have many opportunities to be welcoming in the near future. It may just be at your Australia Day barbie, but your work or the kid's school will often have strangers around as well. We've got new neighbours in our street. And the newer these people are and the more on the fringe they feel, the greater the opportunity for you to be welcoming.
Why don't people just make themselves at home, you ask? Well, because the entire history of almost every culture has unwritten rules about visitors and hosting. No one has ever been invited to my house for a meal and immediately taken over the kitchen. Why not? Because you just don't! I'm the owner and they're the guest. And guests don't do that! New people to any group are basically visitors to begin with. And many of them will wait, hoping somebody will invite them in so they can belong.
Some of us could strike up a conversation with a fly, but others – myself included – have to work a little harder. I often find it helpful to run a reminder list of startup conversation ideas past myself when I want to deliberately be welcoming towards others. Here's some of my hints:
- Ask their name. Use it at least once in the first minute and remember it. Use it again a few times in that first conversation. Try to recall and use it the next time you see them as well. (I once heard it said that the most favourite word in the world for any person is their own name. It makes sense to me!)
- Use the context to create questions about them. How did they get to be here, who do they know, are they enjoying the experience? Feedback your answers to the same questions yourself. You're looking for things in common.
- Ask questions starting with 'w'. Who, what, where, when and why are all questions which require more than one word from the other party to be answered. And we know how hard it is to engage with people who only answer in monosyllables, don't we!
- Introduce them to someone else. At best, they now know two friendly faces. At worst, they can listen to you having a conversation with your friend and they're not standing awkwardly off on their own.
- Finish with a smile, "It was nice to meet you," and a "I'll see you round."
I know some people find it challenging to be welcoming of others, especially when they don't feel much on the 'in' themselves. And there are some people we don't want to be in, aren't there? What if the new people take our place? These are interesting questions and may be worth thinking through, but I still believe that in the majority of contexts it's worth making the effort. Who knows, it might just pay off with an unexpected bonus!
This year, I'm settled in most areas of my world. I'm not expecting much to throw me off balance. My challenge will be to notice others who aren't in that context and remember to be welcoming of them. Whether or not I end up with new friends (I hope I do!), I can at least make it a tad easier for others to work their way in and feel more at home.