The Humans of Bombay Founder shares how to create Instant Rapport
A picture may tell a thousand words, but it’s the captions that make Humans of New York a world-beating success story. Tales of heartbreak and hilarious wedding proposals, one-liners from hipsters and non sequiturs from cheeky kids — this blog has it all, thanks to its creator’s fearless ability to approach strangers and ask, “Hey, what’s your story?”
It’s an addictive formula, one that has spurred ‘Humans of…’ sister projects to pop up around the world. Mumbai is no exception.
“Humans of Bombay was obviously inspired by Humans of New York,” says Karishma Mehta, creator of the Facebook page, which currently boasts over 580,000 likes. Such is its popularity that Mehta has recently launched a Humans of Bombay book, featuring some 100 never-before-seen shots and stories.
At its heart, the “Humans” model is based on the photographer’s knack for meeting a complete stranger and getting them to open up. No easy task. So how does Mehta pull this off? We caught up with her to find out.
How nervous were you when you first decided to go out and approach strangers for this blog?
I was very nervous! I was a fish out of water, I had no idea. And if you’re nervous the person you’re speaking to gets that vibe. So straight off, nine people said no. It was just “No, I don’t want to talk to you,” haha!
So what’s the solution? Is the answer to let both parties approach the interaction positively, by letting them feed off your sense of calm?
Yeah, which I absolutely didn’t have back then!
What are your dos and don’ts of approaching strangers to get them talking?
It’s simple, but I feel like if you’re smiling it really changes how a person feels, it creates an instant connection.
And you can pick up if a person is in a hurry by the way they walk, or looking at his phone or watch. So we try to approach people when they have time. When they’re reading a newspaper, or are just casually out on the street. It has a lot to do with timing and how composed you are when approaching a person.
Sociologists talk about the ‘giving economy’ — how you always have to offer something in any interaction. Does that form a part of how you approach people?
Yes, absolutely. We say that our posts reach about five million people a week at this stage. We say that if it’s a story that has repercussions in society, it will help create awareness of whatever they’re talking about, whether it’s an experience or an incident.
When we approach people it’s just to get their story; we want to hear what you have to say.
A big part of your project is, I would imagine, asking good question to get people to open up. What’s the secret to a good question?
I feel like there’s no secret to a good question, there’s a secret to a good conversation.
You keep it light at the beginning, like how old are you, what do you do. Only then do you move onto happier things, like what was the happiest moment of your life. Then you move onto the deeper questions, the next layer — what are your fears? What do you struggle with?
Do you have any other ‘interview tips’ you find useful?
Actually it’s about wanting to have a conversation, rather than looking at it as an interview. It’s showing that you’re coming at this with real curiosity.
For our readers who are more shy, can you give any advice on how to build up confidence when meeting new people?
The only barrier they have to get over is actually going forward with it headlong. If you’re shy, the only way you get out of that fix is by going out there and starting a conversation. Simple as that.
Jump in headfirst, don’t think or overanalyse, or try to prepare pages of questions.
Being able to charm someone and gain trust is an important skill, yet not many people value it nowadays. What would you say to remind people that intra-personal skills are crucial?
It is important, yes. It makes you get a perspective that you didn’t have before, and I can say that from experience. Your possibilities open up, you feel like you can look at the world from a new viewpoint.
And that’s so necessary at a time when you’re constantly at conflict between choices, or at conflict with yourself. I feel like a fresh perspective always helps you, even if it’s not directly related to your own story.
Do you want your own fresh perspective on life? Step out onto the street and get talking to anyone and everyone. As author Patti Dingh writes, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.”