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  • Writer's pictureKim Caldwell

Caliente + Connection

Who needs tastebuds when you have togetherness?

Today in Kim’s Adventures in Popular Culture, I’m excited to share a show that will be a revelation to some and old news to others: Hot Ones. Yet another phenomenon introduced to me by Clarissa Hernandez (though usually they are music), this youtube show puts celebrities in the hot seat, being interviewed as they eat increasingly spicy chicken or vegan wings. 

Reveling in other people’s pain has never been my thing, but this show is so much more than famous people suffering with consent: it’s powerful interviews! The more of the 25-ish minute episodes we watched, the more obsessed I became with host Sean Evans’ ability to develop rapport with each guest. He is the anti-Matt Lauer (blech) or Diane Sawyer (I still love you!), making the interview a partnership with the guest rather than competing for stardom. He is there with each guest, eliciting authentic and interesting stories that go deep. 

So what can we learn from Sean when it comes to building rapport with new people?

  • Do your effing homework: This guy goes beyond Google, he collects primary data before interviewing a guest. Often, interviewees will make the “oh, damn” face in response to a question, exclaiming “who told you about that?” Usually they are charming or silly facts, nothing upsetting, and it shows how much care he has put into the interaction. You don’t need to conduct a background check before meeting a new contact, but having a sense of their life before you show up will show care and help you build rapport where you have common interests or experiences.  

  • Mirror your partner: The first episode we watched was with Paul Rudd, America’s charming, non-aging guy friend. They ate whole pieces of  fried cauliflower, never once touching their water or milk. So when we watched episodes where he seemed to struggle or needed to drink water and milk, I was confused. Until I saw the genius: he was mirroring his guest. He ate what they ate, struggled when they struggled, acknowledged the insanity of the whole thing when they did. Mirroring is the subconscious practice of imitating another person, which when made conscious can become a shortcut for connection. You don’t have to order the same drink as your contact, or wipe your nose when they do, but noticing how you sync up in mood, language, humor can help you process how things are going or redirect a challenging interaction. 

  • Go off script: There is nothing quite like 2,000,000+ Scovilles on the tongue to get someone off their usual talking points. I can only imagine how the physiological distress of burning your mouth, hands, sinuses, etc. affects an interviewee, but there is an undeniable honesty in the snot and tears shed on that stage. You don’t have to take increasingly hot shots of Starbucks drip coffee to add drama to your meeting, but think of ways to get out of the usual expectations and create space for the unknown. Maybe take a walk, meet over ice cream, or share a pancake at Kerbey - something that heightens the senses and gets everyone out of business mode. Or share something unexpected about yourself that provides extra context for the conversation and see if you get that same candor in response; who knows what connections you might form.

However you decide to spice up your interactions, don’t forget Sean’s other endearing and connecting quality: gratitude. He does more than thank guests for their time. He is gracious throughout the conversation and celebrates their achievements. So at the end of the conversation, even though he has put them through something physically terrible, everyone seems grateful for the conversation.

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