Never Eat Alone: Anchor Tenants

This is the eleventh of sixteen parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz’s Never Eat Alone, where this book on building a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the twenty-first and twenty-second chapters – “Find Anchor Tenants and Feed Them” and “Be Interesting” – which appear on pages 190 through 223.

neaI have a really good relationship with my pastor. She’s one of the most interesting people I know and I regularly have long conversations with her about any number of topics, from the struggle of organized Christian churches to define where they stand on social issues and the reliability of scripture as an accurate document to such things the prevalence of moose in northern Minnesota. She’s genuinely an interesting person and I’m truly glad to have had the opportunity to get to know her over the past several years.

That being said, she inhabits a completely different social circle than I do – and I inhabit a different social circle than she does. Through her, though, I’ve been able to at least make acquaintances with quite a few different people. Her encouragement to participate in different activities has made that possible.

In Ferrazzi’s terms, my pastor is an “anchor tenant.” She’s a person that gives me a foothold in a completely different world – that of pastors of Lutheran churches in Iowa and into many, many other Lutherans in our local community.

Defining Anchor Tenants
On page 192, Ferrazzi spells out the meaning of the “anchor tenant” concept:

Every individual within a particular peer set has a bridge to someone outside his or her own group of friends. We all have, to some degree or another, developed relationships with older, wiser, more experience people; they may be our mentors, our parents’ friends, our teachers, our rabbis and reverends, our bosses.

I call them anchor tenants; their value comes from the simple fact that they are, in relation to one’s core group of friends, different. They know different people, have experienced different things, and thus, have much to teach.

From this perspective, it’s easy to see that our lives are full of anchor tenants. They’re the people that we know reasonably well that simply don’t run in our usual social group.

These people are good to know, though, because they give you a foothold into a completely different world. They bring different experiences and thoughts to the table than your usual friends. They can help connect you to people that you would otherwise never know. They often have access to resources and information that you would have never conceived of.

Who are your anchor tenants? How can you connect with them a little bit better?

Inviting Anchor Tenants Over
One powerful way to build a relationship with an anchor tenant is to invite them over for a dinner party. This works very well for some anchor tenants – but which ones? Ferrazzi spells it out on page 193:

Frankly, anyone who can add a little electricity to your dinner party is an anchor tenant. Journalists, I’ve found, are terrific anchor guests. They aren’t particularly well paid (which makes them suckers for free meals), their profession has a good deal of intrigue, they are always on the lookout for good material and see such dinners as a potential avenue for new ideas, they’re generally good conversationalists, and many folks enjoy an opportunity to get their ideas heard by someone who might publicize them to a larger audiences. Artists and actors, famous or not, fall into that same category.

Ferrazzi basically outlines several traits of good anchor tenants here. Let’s walk through all of the traits.

They’re not rich. People who are well off generally attend dinner parties just purely for the socialization and conversation. People who make less income also appreciate the value of the meal itself. This means that less-well-off folks are more likely to attend dinner parties and the like, meaning they’re easier to include in your social gatherings.

Their work has a good deal of intrigue to a general audience. Journalists, artists, actors, writers, and the like usually do unusual and interesting things with their time. This means that they’ve usually got lots of interesting stories to tell and things to say – which makes them very nice to have around in a group situation.

They have an added interest in getting to know new people. People who particularly benefit from meeting new people – like journalists and politicians – tend to be good anchor tenants, since they’re always striving for new relationships and new connections.

They’re good conversationalists. People that sit there quietly generally don’t add much to dinner parties. On the other hand, people who are extroverts and willing to strike up a conversation are always good additions.

They’re doing something valuable and want to share it. Individuals who are working for something that they want others to know about usually make for good guests as well. People who work for charities or causes fall into this category.

If you start filtering people with this criteria – especially anchor tenants in your life – you’ll pretty quickly come up with a killer list for an enjoyable (and potentially very worthwhile) dinner party at your home.

Notes on Hosting a Dinner Party
Ferrazzi spends several pages on techniques for hosting a successful dinner party, which he views as being key to building a good social network. On page 198, he suggests how to handle the food, an aspect that many people balk at when thinking of trying on such an event:

There’s no sense in a party being all work. If you can’t hire a caterer, either cook all the food ahead of time or just use takeout. If the food is good and the presentation snazzy, your guests will be impressed.

These days, I usually opt for a caterer. But you can have a similarly elegant party for much less if you’re willing to get creative and spend some time preparing. The key to low-budget dinner parties is to keep it simple. Make one large dish, like a stew or chili that can be prepared a day or two ahead of time. Serve it with great bread and salad. That’s all you need.

That’s usually the plan I follow if we’re having a large number of guests. I’ll make a big pot of chili or something similar the day before. Early that morning, I’ll bake several baguettes – which are really, really easy to make – from scratch. In the afternoon, an hour or so before the meal or people begin to arrive, I’ll begin warming up the soup and slicing the baguettes, as well as preparing a tossed salad. When it’s time, I just serve everything buffet-style. This allows me to serve a very good meal without a ton of effort.

One point of advice, though: find out about dietary choices in advance. If someone’s coming that’s vegetarian or has a food allergy, be prepared for that with something else. It’s not that hard to have something additional on hand for such guests – and they usually really appreciate your thought and extra effort.

Be Interesting
Up to this point, the primary focus of the book has been on how to connect with people. However, it’s not very useful advice if you’re not interesting yourself. On page 204:

Be interesting! All that you’ve read thus far doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of being someone worth talking to, and even better, worth talking about. Virtually everyone you meet in a situation is asking themselves a variation on one question: “Would I want to spend an hour eating lunch with this person?”

Ferrazzi’s question at the end is pretty key. Look at yourself and ask yourself honestly if you’d like to spend an hour eating lunch with that person. If the answer is no, then there’s a problem.

How can you be interesting, though? The best way to do it is usually to just express what’s on your mind. The more you hold back because you’re worried about what others might think of you, the less they think of you at all. That doesn’t mean you should be offensive or crude, but it does mean that you should share your ideas and thoughts in conversation with others as often as you can.

For many of us, this is scary. I know that, for a long time, it was scary for me to do this. I was helped greatly in getting over that fear by Dale Carnegie’s excellent How to Win Friends and Influence People. That book taught me little things that I could work on to feel more comfortable in social situations and some general guidelines on what exactly to say next when I didn’t naturally know what to say.

The Value of Being Interesting
How exactly can you be interesting to others? On page 206, Ferrazzi addresses that point:

Being interesting isn’t just abut learning how to become a good conversationalist. Don’t get me wrong, that is important, but you need a well-thought-out point of view. I honestly hop from now on you’ll be a newspaper-reading maniac ready to engage the topics of the day with anyone you meet. But being interesting and having content are very different. The former involves talking intelligently about politics, sports, travel, science, or whatever you’ll need as a ticket of admission to any conversation. Content involves a much more specialized form of knowledge. It’s knowing what you have that most others do not. It’s your differentiation. It’s your expertise.

When I read this passage, I immediately thought of academic conferences.

At a typical academic conference, most of the people there already have the content. They’re stuffed full of ideas and information related to the topic at hand. Yet many of them don’t talk to one another – they remain quiet, taking notes and sticking to their presentations.

Why is this? They have content, but they’re not interesting.

Instead, there’s usually a handful of people at these conferences that everyone knows. These people spend the whole conference carrying on conversations with others. At the end, they’ve met pretty much everyone of interest there and often have lots of people to follow up on.

Those are the interesting people. Yes, they have the content – but so does everyone else there. What sets them apart is that they also have a wide basis of general cultural knowledge, and that general knowledge helps them to connect to pretty much everyone they meet. They’ll understand the obscure joke on someone’s shirt and complement them on it. They’ll know enough about current events to strike up a chat with a guy who just sat down his newspaper. They’re culturally aware – and that makes all the difference.

A Unique Point of View
Every single person has a unique point of view. It’s only those that utilize that uniqueness that succeed in being interesting. Fron page 213:

A unique point of view is one of the only ways to ensure that today, tomorrow, and a year form now you’ll have a job.

What about you sets you apart from the rest of the world? Your family? Your personal story? Your experiences? Your particularly strange set of accomplishments? What can you break down about your story that makes you unique – or nearly so?

Mine’s simple. I grew up in an impoverished family in the Midwest and managed to make it out of that situation. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to manage that money and I fell into the debt trap that ensnares so many. As I struggled to free myself, I chose to tell the world all about my struggles. I’m also a parent.

Each element of that story is pretty common. Lots of people grow up poor. Some of them make it out. Many people grow up and live in the Midwest, which offers some distinct character traits. Lots of people wind up in severe debt trouble. Many people share their stories with the world. A few people are willing to talk openly about their money. Many, many people are parents.

But when you mix those elements together into a stew, you wind up with something that’s unique – or nearly so. That’s why The Simple Dollar works – readers know who I am and what my perspective is. They don’t have to guess at it and they can identify with some of it, but some elements are different enough that they keep reading.

On Saturday, we’ll tackle the twenty-third and twenty-fourth chapters – “Build Your Brand” and “Broadcast Your Brand.”

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