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Treat Your Conversation Like A Hand-Crafted Building Brick.

Lay the foundation for a solid connection.

If you are interested in connecting with another person authentically, use one of “the power of small things” to make an authentic connection: active listening

Learning about people’s lives and interests is the “bricks and mortar” of relationship-building. It will help form the foundation for future conversations.  

Last week, this metaphor came to life, literally and figuratively, while I hung out in a cyberspace green room waiting to speak at the Missouri Main Street Connect Annual Conference. The attendees belong to a statewide network of resources dedicated to preserving old buildings and repurposing others. They create vibrant, character-rich neighborhoods, thriving local economies, and inviting public spaces. These make residents and visitors feel that they belong.

I was getting ready to facilitate an applied storytelling workshop titled “Storytelling for Business Owners and Community Engagement.” And I was experiencing an appropriate level of pre-performance energy and nerves as I focused on my opening remarks.

Then @Russell Volmert a board member and session host logged in for our pre-session tech check. He immediately commented on my red brick virtual background screen. Russ said, “Those are very big bricks, and the mason made a mistake when they laid them.” His comment took me by surprise. And I thought, “Well, I guess we are going to talk about bricks for the next few minutes. This conversation will distract me from wondering how many people in the State of Missouri have logged in.” 

But here’s the thing: During our short chat, I learned about so much more than just about bricks, how each brick maker and region creates distinctive bricks. I learned Russ is a landscape architect who donates his time to this organization. This involvement supports revitalization and beautification efforts in his town. I also learned about his family and their values. And most interestingly, that he and his wife believe that the confidence to connect and communicate effectively was one of the most important gifts they could provide to their kids.  

An enthusiastic and educated comment about bricks led to an engaging conversation about our mutual interests. (And yes, as a born and bred New Yorker, I can pack a whole lot of active listening and conversation into a ten-minute time frame.)

It wasn’t until the next day, after a great conference experience, that I realized that our “bricks and mortar” discussion wasn’t just a good icebreaker conversation. It was also an apt metaphor for how the Missouri Main Street network has achieved success. It got me thinking that each Main Street initiative most likely began when someone looked at the bricks in their community in a new way. And then, they decided to start a passionate conversation about change.

So how can we create inspiring “brick and mortar” moments that inspire and engage others?  

1. Share what “lights you up” – never underestimate the power of unabashed enthusiasm. 

2. Use visual language (or pictures) to demonstrate your points – show them, then tell them.

3. Leave time to share backstories and context – and structure your conversation towards that.

4. Be curious – and ask questions.

5. Keep learning – you will be more interesting and interested.  

6. Repeat 1 to 5 – and repeat.

Click on these links to find out more about MainStreet, the national organization, and its founder Mary Means. 





Julienne B. Ryan is an applied storyteller, speaker, trainer, coach, and the author of “The Learned-It-In-Queens Communications Playbook – Winning Against Digital Distraction” She likes to find humor and irony in everyday situations and uses them to guide her clients’ communications, teamwork, and productivity!