How observant are you? That’s what I’d like you to think about this week.

Here are two instances of “getting past hello” by observing my surroundings. In both cases, I was meeting new company leaders early in their tenure at my organization.

I was meeting with a new company leader who had come to the company from the oil and gas industry. In her office there was a photo of an oil rig that had handwritten notes on the matting. I asked her, “was that a going away gift from your last company?” Indeed, it was. She went on to tell me about her experiences in her previous role. I saw her face light up and convey a sense of pride in the work she had done and the connections she had with her global team.

Prior to that encounter, I entered the office of a leader within my business unit. While I knew his general background and previous employment status, I didn’t know much more. One day, I noticed that he had decorated his office. He had one of the most unique things in his office that immediately grabbed my attention. He had a shelf mounted on his wall that held miniature farm implements (tractors, combines, threshers). Having come from a family where both my dad and grandfather collected replicas like this, I had to know more.

He told me that members of a volunteer agricultural board he managed gave him this as a thank you gift. Each gave him the replica of the type of farm equipment they use on their own farm. As I walked closer to the shelf, I noticed that each item had the names of those who gifted it on a plaque. I immediately recognized the names of a couple who I went to church with when I grew up in Republic, Ohio. This was one of the most surprising and welcome “making our big world small” instances I’ve ever experienced. Not only does he know the couple I grew up with, but he has spent more time in recent years in Republic than I have. We formed an immediate connection based on this shared experience of my hometown.

I’m always looking around. I notice t-shirts people wear and bumper stickers they have on their car. I ask about pictures in cubicles and coffee mugs bearing logos and trademarks. It’s amazing how quickly you can form a connection with someone by inquiring about the mementos and brands that surround them.

How do you open a conversation with someone when you notice a brand, picture or symbol that intrigues you?

People put those things out into the world because they have meaning for them. What a better way to form a meaningful connection than to ask someone else about something that means a lot to them?

Try it this week – ask someone about the university sweatshirt they often wear. Inquire about a piece of artwork in their home or office.

How do you share your affinities with those around you? What could you share through your surroundings that might allow you to make new – or more meaningful – connections?

Do you have a great example? Send a picture to me at

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Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.

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