Get in the driver's seat!

The power of curiosity to build connection! Guest: Samantha Graff Benmor

September 11, 2023 Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach Season 1 Episode 9
Get in the driver's seat!
The power of curiosity to build connection! Guest: Samantha Graff Benmor
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Today, we're swapping stories about developing professional relationships, not as a duty, but as an enjoyable activity that can add a lot to life. If you're looking for inspiration on ways to reach out to new people with ease, this episode is for you!

Our guest, Samantha Graff Benmor, is an award-winning realtor at The Graff Group and an icon of Toronto Real Estate. Samantha is also the innovator behind Sammy G's Gifts, perfectly personalized gifts for all occasions. 

If you are interested in learning more about Samantha Graff Benmor, please go to:  or

You're listening to Get in the Driver’s Seat! We’re telling stories about leadership moments in small to mid-sized professional practices. I’m your host, Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach for lawyers, architects, consultants and other professionals at Bekhor Management.

0:00 Sandra
Hello and welcome to the podcast! This is 'Get in the driver's seat'. We're telling stories about leadership moments in small to mid-sized professional practices. I'm your host, Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach at Bekhor Management. I'm excited to introduce our guest today, Samantha Graff Benmor, an award-winning realtor at The Graff Group and an icon of Toronto real estate. Samantha is also the innovator behind Sammy G's Gifts, perfectly personalized gifts for all occasions. Welcome Sam!

0:37 Sam
Hi Sandra. Thank you so much for having me.

0:43 Sandra
It's such a pleasure. So to catch up our listeners, about four months ago Sam invited me to be a guest on the Graff Group, which was at that time called the Graff Girls IG live, to talk about the importance of business relationships. We both had a lot to say on the topic, so we decided to continue our chat here today on the podcast. So today I was thinking we could swap stories. We've both done a lot of developing of professional relationships and helped others to do this. I like the idea of focusing on how do you make this an enjoyable activity, rather than a duty, something that adds to your life rather than subtracts. Sam my observation is that this is an area where you are a natural-born leader, honestly. You just reach out to new people with ease and you're always on the lookout for ways to connect them to each other, to help them. So could you just kick us off by telling us a bit about what you have found works for you?

2:00 Sam
Like you said, it's very natural. First, I like to entertain and I also have a brain that basically connects dots and relationships. I guess you can relate it to matchmaking and with real estate it's buyers with the home, that's how I do my matchmaking. But when it comes to businesses, I just sort of like that jigsaw idea and connecting different people.  I can't even explain it. But the minute I meet somebody, my brain goes to who can I introduce them to or it comes right out of my mouth and it's like you know who you need to talk to... I've also been in I guess a very social position. It's no secret that I got married later in life, which allowed me to work the hours of real estate that were necessary in sales, in general being on call. And I was out and socializing. When you are comfortable socializing, you meet a lot of different people. I've also done personal growth courses, such as PSI seminars or Landmark. There you sort of get ideas from people too. It's a constant networking to be around different people. I also, as you know, have a husband who's quite social and curious is my favourite word. I find that both of us are very curious in meeting new people. So you know a lot of people will say to us like you guys are out every single night and one of the reasons is because we are constantly meeting new people and we're very curious in meeting them and getting to know their stories. I think that like you mentioned, stories are a really good way to connect with people. I think that that's one of the strong suits of networking. People like to feel connected in a way so that you can relate to them and I think that's a key component to sales and growing your business and finding those advocates for your business. If you can relate to them through a story then they usually become a a pretty good advocate for you.

4:52 Sandra
I love that answer. You really get into the idea of why does this add to your life, as opposed to it feeling like work. All those long nights where you spend socializing or going out with people, why would you do that if it didn't actually add something great to your life?

5:16 Sam
Well it's quite fun to go out to different restaurants. I mean we do live in Toronto right? So we've got a huge rainbow of choices. We love Toronto. One thing also that I find is that it's not just going to restaurants. I think this is important for people to network and to find different types of people that you do connect with and some might be at the ballet and some might be at a rock concert. Some might be at a play and some might be at a tennis match. I'm very lucky that I found my partner now to do that with. Before you know Cheryl is a pretty good wing person, I have to admit. She tolerated a lot of my ideas. But you know I always had to find people to kind of go out with being on my own. But now I have somebody right attached to me I guess and he's always game. So I think also being in the different Industries we bring different people together also which is great too. As you also know and you mentioned I have my Sammy G's and from a very young age Sammy G's actually developed. My mom was trying to stay top of mind in front of her clients. So I would go shopping with her you know in high school and she would be buying these expensive gifts for her clients or people who referred her. I'd go and I was very cautious of the dollar. So she'd be like which one do you like better, this one or this one? I'd be flipping over the bottom to see what the price was. She'd be like don't turn it over, "I'm just asking you which one do you like." It was hard for me because I was so cautious of spending too much money. But it did help me learn what I like and what I don't like. Then I recognized the thank yous that were involved. That's how Sammy G's came to be, with the idea of a lasting gift. But it had to be in a price point that someone new in the business could afford and stay top of mind and that's where the personalization came in. So another way that I feel like we stay top of mind and we build relationships are by doing gift giving. Sammy G's is not the only option out there. The most important thing is that you listen to people's stories and you hear little tidbits about them. For example, I said this to Steve once. He's like I need to get this client a gift. You know, they're going through a hard time. I want to just acknowledge it and you know, yes, my personalized robes when someone's going through a hard time suggests that you're gonna relax and all that. But what I said to him was what's the person interested in? What do they do? He's like well what what do you mean? I'm like have you ever heard in their conversation, I'll call you later? Or can I call you at this time because I'm going to a yoga class then you know they're into yoga? You have a little bit on them. So in Sammy G's for example I have yoga mats or yoga towels and I put their initials or name on it. You were paying attention to them and you pick up on things and I think that's important. I remember one gift Cheryl and I gave to a client. She loved Diet Coke and, same thing, it was a chaotic time and showing the house and she was getting frustrated. We filled a huge plastic bin that said Coke on it and we filled it with like I don't even know how many cans of coke we put in there. Then we gave it to her and it was sort of to just make her laugh and smile. It's just something they remember. I think that's important when you are doing gifts or you are taking somebody to a yoga day or sending them to a yoga retreat or you know some type of class, you buy them a class pass for yoga. Just make it about them, not about you. The one thing I am not big on is things with the Graff Group on it or Sammy G's on it. I'm not into that. It's all about the client or the person who's referring you. I think that's part of the matchmaking too, to keep it something of Interest.

10:57 Sandra
I think that builds on the point you were making before about curiosity. A lot of times when people go to networking events, they feel the pressure to share about themselves. But if you go in with this attitude of curiosity, instead, you feel actually it's less pressure. It's more fun to ask people questions and like you said pay attention to the little tidbits that they throw out that show you a little bit about their character or their interests. Then you can build continuity into that relationship by remembering that and showing up with a gift or an invitation to go somewhere.

11:43 Sam
I remember going to a listing presentation and the woman warned us that her dog is very timid and is a little anxious. She might bark. She might not be comfortable around you guys I just want to give you the heads up. Are you okay with the dog? I said no problem, I have a dog clearly, but I said no problem.  I showed up to the listing presentation with a bag of these little dog bones. It keeps the dog busy. I have to tell you I'm not sure that's the only reason we got the listing. But she was so taken aback and the dog was busy with the bones. It's just those little things that you listen to. But I want to go back to your point about curiosity and questions because this was a learning experience for me with Steve's curiosity and the questioning every time we would go out and I would introduce him to someone new I would find out more information about that person that I thought I knew because he asked questions that I wouldn't have asked. If you really act like you are interested or you genuinely are interested, it really connects you to the person. Then like you said the person feels heard and they walk away from that, whether it's a first time meeting, second or third  saying I had such a great time with that person. I know that sometimes we've gone out for dinner and I've been really quiet just listening. It doesn't happen very often. But I listen the whole entire time and the message back was I had the best time with you. I was like I wasn't that much fun. But you talked the whole time, so you had the best time. Because people, they like to be heard right?

13:50 Sandra
They do and that's so interesting because when you bring your partner in, you know Steve, this person you already knew. But now you're learning this whole other layer of them. They're feeling engaged in the conversation and that's really about connection.

14:07 Sam
Absolutely and I think that's the most important thing in any type of relationship. It varies in different types of relationships. But even people will say like how do you deal with the end of an offer? When it's all done, there's people you just sort of say congratulations. There's people you hug. There's people you shake hands. That's all connection also. The way you relate to people can make a difference in that networking. and advocacy for you and your business.

14:57 Sandra
Are you saying that you pick up on people's comfort zones around shaking hands or the hugs?

15:08 Sam
Absolutely. I find it interesting that at the beginning of a listing, if I don't actually know the person at all and there was no connection, which doesn't really happen because generally speaking for us at this point in our career we're probably 95 % repeat or referral business - so there's some type of connection, but if they're brand new, I love the stages of building that relationship. When the offer comes in and the deal is done like are we gonna get a hug out of this you know? One thing my mom taught me was that you really shouldn't do the intimate business thing like go to dinner and all that. I mean sometimes you're on an offer and you're eating dinner and all that. But you know it's business first. Then it becomes a friendship after. But when you're doing business you have to keep it business professional. I'm a little more friendly I guess in that situation. I think it depends, industry to Industry. But that's why Cheryl is the all business person and I'm a little bit more of the social fun and friendly part. That's what makes a team.

16:29 Sandra
Yeah. So can you tell a story about meeting someone from scratch? A person that you didn't know? How do you break the ice? How do you make it so it feels comfortable?

16:49 Sam
It's a good question. I'm trying to think of something. I mean I can give you an example when I maybe didn't totally not know them. But you sort of have seen them around or in circles, but never been introduced. I remember being at a bar in the financial district. You know when you keep seeing somebody and, I knew, it was a woman, she was in interior design. I thought good connection right? At the time I was single and so you know, good to go out with, good to maybe do business with. But because she was single,
I think that was sort of my connection, to feel comfortable and we're sort of still in the same place and being in business related. I guess sometimes it's body language. Sometimes it's just watching what they're doing and saying something based on what they're doing. I'm trying to remember because I really think I heard her name and I went over and just made a comment. But then what I did was because I actually knew her name I reached out to her on LinkedIn. I connected with her on LinkedIn and I said hey next time you want to go downtown, I'm happy to go with you. It was very funny. So we go to this bar for, we went for dinner actually down there again. She said to me, I have to tell you I would never have picked up the phone or emailed you or whatever and asked you out. I go, "ask you out"? It's not like a date. She goes well I just have to say like I really appreciate you asking me out. But I never would have done it. I said why is that? She said well you kind of have to earn my friendship connection. I was like what does that mean? She said, well everyone starts with a zero and then they go up till I get them to a 10. I said that's funny because the way I think of it is everybody's at 10 until they start doing things that don't work for me and they go down. So we were completely different personalities in the way we viewed it. So maybe that's one of the ways I approach people. You have no idea what somebody out there has to offer as friendship as business potential, as just hearing someone's story. They say people come into your life sometimes once, twice, three times, years, you never know. So I think it's a mindset and I do think it has to do with confidence and I don't say confidence totally but you need to be comfortable with yourself.

20:06 Sandra
Yeah, it's that's such a great story and you did say people connect with stories. I agree Sam that it's about a mindset. It's almost like you're saying that you believe in people, you believe that you're going to get something out of spending time with this person. You don't expect it's going to be a waste of time.

20:34 Sam
Well, exactly and that's up to you. Just like this woman and I saw this situation from completely different perspectives. Perspective is also another place to really make your decisions from places of what's your comfort level. Because the best way to connect with somebody is doing something you're comfortable. I say this in dating too. Like why would you go out with somebody and agree to go to a tennis match when you absolutely find tennis boring? Do you know what I mean? Don't do things that you're not interested in. Unless, you haven't really experienced it and you don't think you're interested, give it a chance. I'm big on that. But I'm not big on, if you know you don't like something, don't just go do that and think you're going to connect with somebody. Because you're just kidding yourself.

21:36 Sandra
I love that you said that. You know what, earlier in the conversation when you were talking about your style of networking, I was thinking about the word authenticity. Now, that's exactly what you're talking about. Why is this method of developing professional relationships not a duty? It's adding to life. Because you're showing up as yourself.

22:02 Sam
Exactly. It's the easiest person to be also, right? Like why people are not, I don't really get it. But sometimes that does have to do with insecurity and being the person that everybody else wants you to be. That can happen at different stages of life for people. Some people pick up on it in their teens and some people wait till 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s. Some people never are true to themselves.

22:40 Sandra
No, that's right. The lie that those people (or I'll put myself in that category because I've experienced it too)... The lie that we tell ourselves when we do that is that there's nobody who's going to like us for who we are. Really, we're just closing our eyes to all the people who would have been delighted to spend time with us. We just, you know, in that moment are not seeing it.

23:04 Sam
Those are the people who would make you yourself feel better about you. Because they are fully accepting you, authentically. And you're accepting them. It's just like a level of being in whatever type of relationship, friendship, business, intimate... you're gonna be that much more connected, which makes it that much stronger of a relationship. Now that being said there are some people who like very shallow relationships, right? I mean it's not my style. So maybe that's why I am true to myself and authentic and appreciate those that are.

23:46 Sandra
That's why you've been able to sustain this lifestyle that includes all of these professional relationships. I mean the way you just use you described before how you are comfortable having some social engagement with people who are actively clients that also speaks to authenticity. Because if you felt the pressure to keep this mask on while you were socializing with people, because they are active clients, well you wouldn't want to do that. That stinks.

24:24 Sam
No. I think also even having the two businesses that I do and, as you know I also work with Steve, part of me having the variety that I have in business is to fulfill the different parts of me, my personality and my strengths. Without Sammy G's, I can't do just real estate and I also can't just do just Sammy G's. So I think that healthy balance, if people can find it, because most people do not have one career, like they don't wear one hat. I think the majority of the professions out there require you to wear multiple hats and some of those hats in that profession you don't maybe care for so much. So if you can delegate those and find whether it's another business or just focus on a few hats... I just think that there's not just one side to anybody. They're not one colour you know. Most people have a good rainbow in them. Personally, I'm like the pencil crayons, Laurentians or something that can go on. But you know if you take your strengths and you focus on those and those are really the bright colours in your palette, then I think most people stand out and I think they'll be successful in life. Because what's success in life? Being happy. What's happy? Light. Shine right? So sunshine.

26:18 Sandra
Well one of the things I'm thinking about as we're having this conversation is often what comes up in coaching meetings these days like during Covid and since Covid, I'm gonna say Covid is over. Particularly people who are younger than me, let's put it that way, they're not as used to in-person meetings anymore. So now when they think about building their business and building relationships and you know networking, for them some of it is literally, "okay I'll post stuff on my socials."

27:00 Sam
I know and it's not connecting to be speaking like that. I do agree. Like you know going out for dinner... Cheryl and I have done, I think it's 11 or 12 Challah bakes, for example. We had 12 women. What we did was we would make the dough and then for two hours let it rise, while we would sit at a long table. That's why we only had 12 people, because it would be too much. They were women that we've either worked with before or were advocates for us and they were all different ages. Not everyone knew each other and we brought them together and we cooked dinner - we didn't have them cook dinner, Cheryl and I cooked dinner - which showed that intimacy and connection. Some of these dinners were so unbelievable. It's no secret, it's been all over social media. My mother turned 75 this year. I'm 50. There's a 25-year difference and she'd invite some of her contemporaries and I'd invite some of mine and younger. The stories that were shared and the connections that were made between these different generations was amazing. These people didn't know each other. So I think the live events and I think when you do something, it's also more connecting. That's why I've always done those kind of get-togethers. I mean I've done things with personal chefs. I had a bunch of girls over, all different industries . We had a personal chef and they taught us some different things. One time they just sort of showed us one thing and another time they showed us the whole meal. I've done wine tastings, all sorts of things. I do believe that, unfortunately, the generation who went through Covid in the times that are really important for mentorship and mentorship in networking even, in learning how to socialize with other people. It'll be challenging for them and I think they should really make an effort to do that. Now that being said things like this are also opportunities for people to connect. Cheryl and I have our weekly IG live. I did it for Sammy G's during the pandemic. Because it's personalized, I need my orders in way before everybody else for Christmas. So my deadline's are quite early. There was a good two weeks before Christmas happened. So what I did was I supported other small businesses that were new. I put it out there that I was going to host like a coffee chat. I shared their businesses because why not right? It was like you want to show support. Also it's another way to create advocates for your business. But you know there's something to be said about giving and taking. There's different people in this world and some are takers and some are givers. We can get into a whole conversation about that, how that works in relationships. But that's a very large topic that might be better for my husband.

30:44 Sandra
Thank you for bringing up all those activities because I think that gives people something to think about. I was really hoping that anybody who's still stuck in that mentality of feeling a little bit hesitant about doing in-person things or being a little more active about it would maybe pick up some ideas from this podcast. It's inspiring.

31:07 Sam
I would encourage anybody who's maybe a little bit socially uncomfortable to take baby steps and try one thing at a time. If you can make it over that lower hurdle, you'll start getting up there. Just as an example, so that people can understand this. If I showed you some of my first videos I did, oh my G-d like you would see a completely different person. Going way back to weddings in my 20s and 30s even up to probably 40.  At 40 I started getting a little more comfortable, maybe, but not so much. It really was only the last few years when we got forced to be on camera that I was actually okay to come on. I ran away from video cameras at those weddings. When they asked you to say something, I was like that (wave) was the extent of what I would do. So now this is like normal to me. So you can change, evolve. Change is the wrong word. So you know you can grow. You just gotta practice. Just do it in baby steps because you can do it.

32:49 Sandra
I agree totally. I would add to that to just be honest with yourself about what your comfort zone is and what you like. I mean personally, I'm an introvert. So putting myself out there in big groups, it really does drain my energy. So I have learned, you know do one-on-ones. Go out with somebody for a tea or a coffee and do those activities. Go to a museum. I love art. Like you said Sam, show up in the things that you actually do like. I'm not going to play golf, right? I will go to the museum.

33:31 Sam
Exactly. I think that it's important to meet like-minded people. But in the same boat, push your limits a little too right? Because the person who likes golf might give you a different view or a different perspective on something that you might be toying with and you're not sure of. So sometimes it is good to meet those people that are a little bit different because they make you think differently. I mean Steve and I, in so many ways our businesses are so different and in so many ways they have a lot of consistency to them. I mean dealing with emotions, dealing with your largest assets, dealing with multiple people and support systems. But they're also completely different industries. When we talk marketing ideas or business plan ideas, we always end up realizing there's an overlap. We can kind of take little pieces and it seems to work because it makes your brain work right? We're not getting younger. We're getting older and when I say older I mean wiser. So make the most of it.

34:53 Sandra
I heard one of those tips that you know think about stretching yourself as putting yourself out of your comfort zone about 10 percent. So not 100, 10% at a time.

35:11 Sam
Well I think the people who try to do a hundred percent are the ones that are disappointed in the end and they walk away. That's why I said baby steps before. If you just think of 10 things that you think will get you to wherever you want to go, so your point A to Z, right? So think what a, b, c, d, e could be and just go to B. I just stayed there sometimes actually. I did coaching for a while. I was working with someone. One of the best things she said to me was, I was frustrated because I wasn't moving forward. I wanted to move forward. She said to me, you know those people who climb like Mount Everest or like one of these huge Kilimanjaro, you know? Do you really think that they climb from the bottom to the top? She goes right now you're climatizing to the altitude right and you're catching your breath. There's nothing wrong with where you are. You're in a good place. This is a great place. You're just gonna hang out here for a little bit till you catch your breath. You organize maybe a couple more things and then you're gonna go to the next level. But don't be upset that you're still here because you've come from down here and this is a good place. So you go to patience. It's testing your patience, sometimes.

36:49 Sandra
Well and you brought up a good point about goals because everybody's goals are unique to them. So if you're comparing yourself to somebody else you're doing yourself a disservice. We all do it. But at least catch yourself when you're doing it. Get honest about your goals because your goals are different from somebody else's goals.

37:14 Sam
Yeah self-awareness is a super important thing to be practicing. You can't ever be too self-aware. Well actually maybe you can. I might take that back. But that's creating balance. Again going back to the balance with self-awareness, I think it's important.

37:34 Sandra
The last thing, I want to pick up on what you said Sam about encouraging ourselves and others to go out and meet people who are different from us. I agree. You know I have found that when I meet people who are different from me, they actually help me to grow.

37:57 Sam
Absolutely, yeah. I mean you just had that experience. I mean you've come out more than once with a group of women that I put together. Nobody knew each other. The last time there were six of us. Nobody knew each other. The time before, the people had only met once, the other girls. I do get excited to watch it too like it's kind of interesting to me. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't work so well. Generally speaking it works. When it doesn't work, I don't beat myself up over it. I just say not gonna do that again right?

38:38 Sandra
Right. Don't force it. So if it doesn't work, that's okay. That's part of it. I've heard a couple of, from a few books I read recently, that one of the best things to do is fail often. If you fail often it means you tried something.

39:03 Sam
That's why they say it's not failure it's an experience. So to everyone out there, go and look for that new experience. Try to make that step from A to B.

39:14 Sandra
That is wonderful. It's a good place for us to park this discussion until next time.

39:21 Sam
Sure as we all know we can go on with this one.

39:29 Sandra
We can. Well thank you so much Sam for your time and your insights.

39:37 Sam
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. I look forward to hearing responses and comments from people on how Sandra or I can be of help to them. I'm always happy to help support. If you're looking to be connected with anybody, I'm happy to do that as well.

39:58 Sandra
I told I told you guys she's a connector.

39:59 Sam
It is what it is. It's authentic.

40:05 Sandra
It totally is.

40:10 Sam
Thank you everybody. Have an awesome day. I appreciate everybody's time and especially Sandra for having me, thank you.

40:17 Sandra
Thanks. To our listeners, if you are interested in learning more about Samantha Graff Benmor, please go and You've been listening to Get in the Driver's Seat, stories about leadership moments in small to mid-sized professional practices. I'm your host Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach at Bekhor Management. Take care everybody.

Reaching out to new people with ease
Curiosity deepens connections
Comfort zones around shaking hands or the hugs
Breaking the ice with a new contact
Networking authentically
Connecting post pandemic
Stretching the comfort zone
Start with your goals