Whether you're a salesperson seeking to meet the needs of a potential client, a consultant looking to serve a new group, or a pastor desiring to care for a new family it's important to know how to make the right start with new folks.
I'll write as a consultant/educator so I'll use the plural, but the principles are the same whatever your role - and whether or not your role is something entirely different - teacher, coach, first date...you name it!
1. Care far more about understanding them than making a first impression for yourself.
This is not only the right thing to do, but it increases your effectiveness exponentially. They are not a cog in your wheel, an asset for your bottom line, a notch for your ego, or a hope for your dwindling congregation.
They are a group of people with a story and your job is to learn that story well. Nothing you can say to them makes sense unless you get their story and begin to speak with them in the same language as their story.
2. Believe that whatever challenges they may be facing, the answers are in the room.
I am fortunate enough to work with a consulting firm which preaches this relentlessly and has ever since my first day of association with them thirteen years ago: "The answer is in the room".
I've seen the wisdom of this simple statement over and over again.
This means that God (in my estimation) or fate or the human spirit or life experience has given them everything they need to solve their problems. The work of leadership does not involve you telling them the answers but helping them to discover the resources they already have and then mobilizing others to solve those problems.
It also helps me get out of my own way and to avoid the pressure of having to act like I have all the answers.
3. Follow their energy, wherever that leads.
When working with new folks, I walk in - inevitably - with an agenda. That's not inherently bad, but it usually only lasts for the first five minutes of the meeting.
Whoever the group is, they have energy surrounding something. Your job is to find that and go with it. If you're a consultant, it's not 'here's my five point plan for you'; if you're in sales it's not 'please buy my service'; if you're a pastor, it's not 'please join my church, fill a slot, and contribute financially'.
If you try to impose your energy on them - oh, dear Lord - that never ends well. They will be irritated with you for reasons even they don't understand, and you'll get nowhere.
No one will follow someone else whom they believe to have an agenda that does not honor their own. Great leaders often change our agenda but they don't start there - they start by letting us know they value where we are starting.
Following the energy is not only good business practice but is a very spirit-honoring thing. In a world that treats people as commodities all too often this says "You are important and valuable and well worth considering".