Think about a time when talking to someone left you with a warm heart, a calm head, and a feeling of being understood. Bill Clinton was famous for making that impression on people he just met. How do these people create this effect?
As Dale Carnegie famously said, “to be interesting, be interested”. It’s all about the way those people make us feel.
A simple concept, although not an easy one to implement. It is far easier to please our ego instead and make those social interactions about ourselves. What is most important story to tell on a Monday morning at work? Our story. What about the most valuable opinion in a meeting? Our opinion. And what are the most important feelings in the room on any given day? Our feelings.
But if we dig a bit deeper, we will realise that we are wired to give. Not to take. And although it is easy to put on our “defence armours” when we leave for the office, we can keep some basic ideas in mind that will allow us to “catch ourselves” when interacting with others.
Why does this matter?
Simply put, because we cannot get things done without help. At work, this becomes a crucial consideration. While you may be able to choose your friends, you may not always be able to do the same with your co-workers. This means that you need to understand them and gain their respect if you are to get anywhere at your current job.
Let’s explore some options.
1. Be Aware of Who is Benefiting From What You Are Saying
When talking to others, it pays to keep these two fundamental questions in mind:
“Will I be adding value to the other person (by transmitting useful information), or make him feel happier or more valued (by triggering a positive emotion)?”
“Or will I use my intervention to talk (even indirectly) about myself and serve my ego at the expense of the person I am talking to?”
Count to 3 in your head while you give yourself an honest answer to these questions, and catch yourself before you speak.
It may feel awkward at first, but over time this exercise will enhance your everyday social interactions. This simple practice will make you a more mindful and engaged listener, a trait of people that are “good with people”.
2. You Want to Say Something? Ask a Question
We already know that our most valued opinion is our own, and we make sure everybody knows by giving unsolicited opinions to others pretty much all the time.
But you can change this, and become the real listener in the room, by not giving unsolicited opinions unless it is necessary. Instead of dropping a statement, choose to ask a few questions to understand the context behind the opinion of others.
- Instead of saying “I think that you should do this like that”, you may ask “What are the key factors supporting your approach”?
- Instead of saying “I don’t agree with that”, you may ask “How can we incorporate X, Y or Z, that I also believe are important in this situation, to your suggestion”?
- Instead of saying “you are making a mistake”, you may ask “Have you thought of X, Y or Z second-degree consequences to that course of action”?
How can this help?
- You will drop the “judger” cap and instead you will put on a “curious” cap. You cannot empathise with someone if you are judging at the same time. Adopting an also called “learners’ mindset” will allow you to connect with the motivations and circumstances of other people (their story behind the facts), taking the attention off the “what” and focusing on the “why”.
- We are humans, not robots. If you alienate someone in a conversation, that person may want to win an argument for the sake of you not winning it, regardless of who may be right. But when someone acknowledges that there is no “competition” nor “judgment” involved (but effective listening) that person will become more open to different views.
Influencing people starts with understanding them. As Peter Drucker once said, you don’t need to “like” people to be able to work effectively with them. You only need to understand them.
3. Say “I Am Sorry” (And Nothing Else) When You Screw Up
“I Am Sorry” are the three most powerful words you can exchange with another human being.
They have the power to reset conflict even in the most challenging circumstances, making these words the best human relationships hack ever.
When apologising, it makes a big difference to avoid adding anything after the “I am Sorry” magic words. We tend to fall for the usual “I am sorry, but [excuse/explanation]”, but in reality, the more we own the “result” of our actions, without using the “process” to justify ourselves, the better the apology.
As coach Marshall Goldsmith puts it, saying sorry should be a quick in and out exercise. The best apology is always vulnerable, unhedged and bold.
4. Make a Habit of Replying “Thank You” to Most Things
After “I Am Sorry”, “Thank You” are the next best words ever invented.
Did you receive a compliment? Say “Thank You”, instead of “Nah, this dress is old” or “Really? I have a tired face today”.
Next time someone tells you something you already know, say “Thank You” instead of “Yes, I Know”.
Why? Because the other person is trying to make you feel good (emotion) or add value to you (information), so don’t downplay the gesture. Make the exchange about the other person and not about you, and you will easily build a relationship.
What about unsolicited feedback at work? This one can be tough to swallow. After all, you may not even like the person giving you feedback, and that can make things a lot more difficult.
But as much as it can be hard, it is also a gift, and one given to you for free. We all have blind spots, and when someone points them out, we tend to focus on how that makes us feel (the “dent to our armour”) instead of appreciating the valuable information they convey.
So when someone gives you unsolicited feedback, focus on the learning opportunity and stick to a simple and sincere “Thank You” instead of “Yes, but/however [unsolicited explanation here”].
5. Know Their Names
How did you feel when someone new in the office (or that barely knew you), came to you calling your name? Did you feel valued and important? I bet you did.
Your name is, to you, the most beautiful word anyone can speak. It gives people direct access to your heart. So if you want to apply all of the above with flying colours, make sure you know the other person’s name while at it.
The bottom line is simple, and yet a compelling one: we all have a daily opportunity to make it about others, instead of about ourselves. And there is magic in this shift to our social approach: caring about others will make them care about you and your agenda.