“To be interesting, be interested.” Dale Carnegie
We all strive to be “the most interesting person in the room,” or at least in our relationships. In this regard we may think that if we can just impress others with our smarts, charm, wit, worldliness, hipness, etc., it’ll blow people away with how cool we are and have them spread the word about how lucky they are to know us.
Unfortunately, this self-centered approach isn’t effective. If that’s your M.O., I hate to burst your ego-bubble: You talking about you typically offers nothing fascinating to others. Not to mention you run the risk of being labeled a bore. If you find people shying away from you after a few minutes of your prattle I hope you have enough self-awareness to realize this is the case.
So what works? Dale Carnegie, in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People (highly recommended, even if you’ve read it before), shares this story about his interaction with a woman who heard he had traveled abroad in Europe. She said, ““Oh, Mr. Carnegie, do tell me about all the wonderful places you have visited and the sights you have seen.” She then remarked that she and her husband had recently visited Africa, so Carnegie said, “Tell me about Africa.”
That got her talking for the better part of an hour, and she never again asked about his travels. “All she wanted was an interested listener. I listened because I was genuinely interested … one of the highest compliments we can pay anyone.” This is the exact opposite of what most of us do.
Ask: How to Relate to Anyone, a book authored by fellow coach Dan Solin, underscores this point and more. He lays out not only the psychological but also the physiological research on why letting other people talk makes them like you more. We humans, as social beings, crave connection with others. Solin explains that when we use questions to allow others to talk about themselves it releases a couple of powerful chemicals into their bloodstream. The first is oxytocin, also called “the love hormone,” that enhances social bonding. The other is dopamine, which delivers a feeling of anticipated pleasure. Now let me ask you something: Why wouldn’t you want to help other people get an all-natural buzz by simply using questions to get them talking? (No — that’s not a trick question.)
Here are my main takeaways from the book:
•. Flex your “curiosity muscle” to discover where someone else is coming from. (Hint: You can’t be curious while running your mouth.)
•. Allow others to go first. It’s the same courtesy as opening the door for others, and makes a positive impression. When you finally do get a chance to speak people will be more receptive to listening to you.
•. Actively listen by asking follow-up questions to your initial question, which demonstrates you are interested in another’s responses and want to dig deeper.
• Refrain from giving advice, at least initially — sometimes people just want a sounding board. It’s better to drill down on an issue/problem with probing questions. This is especially relevant for those of us in the advice-giving business. (I’m as guilty as anyone of not doing this as much as I could.)
The ideas in Ask can come in handy in the following areas:
In sales I have a Financial Advisor client who always goes for the bait when a prospect asks him, “What do you think will happen with ________?” (Fill in the blank: the market, stocks, bonds, the Fed, the political environment, etc.) My client loves to espouse his opinions, which invariably leads to an intellectual arm-wrestling match about what may or may not happen. The result? No deal. I must suck as a coach because so far I haven’t be able to get him to simply say, “Good question — what concerns you about ________?” This is what will lead to a meaningful conversation, because behind questions from prospects are typically an issue, an objection or a story that can eventually turn them into clients if you’re willing to hear them out. And it starts with a simple question, then using active listening.
While networking My wife Paula does NOT want to hear my story. She wants answers to two questions: “When are you taking out the trash, and it’s your turn to cook — what are you making for dinner?” But when I’m networking with someone and they inquire as to how I got started in my coaching business, MAN — I could go on for an hour if I didn’t know better. My advice to my clients: When you meet a new contact, ask the other person for their “business bio” with questions like “Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? How did that lead you on your long strange trip to become a ________?” It may be hard to shut them up once they get on a roll, but that’s OK.
Handling disagreement I love the music of The Beatles. But The Fab Four got it wrong on their song We Can Work It Out. Paul sings, “Try to see it my way — only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.” He’s telling the listener, “My way is the RIGHT way, OK?” Wouldn’t it have been better if he had used questions to find out where the other person was coming from so they could work it out, a la Stephen Covey’s prescription of “seek first to understand?” (Probably wouldn’t have made a very good song though.). Are you guilty at times of insisting your way is the RIGHT way? Yeah, me too.
With our significant other I admit that I am not always the most attentive spouse. But when Paula starts talking about something important to her, like her work with one of her challenging yoga students, I make time to listen carefully and ask questions about what progress has taken place week-to-week. The difference she is making in another person’s life is genuinely interesting to me. This may (somewhat) make up for the times I’m too distracted by a Cubs/Bears/Bulls game to pay attention. (Yes — I’m one of those sports-addicted guys. There is no cure …)
Here’s a suggestion on how you might break the habit of rambling on: The next time you see others’ eyes glaze over when you’re over-exercising your vocal cords, visualize the the acronym W.A.I.T. emblazoned in red on their foreheads. It stands for “Why Am I Talking?” Then quickly cut yourself off by saying, “But that’s enough from me — tell me about _______.” And hand off the conversation to them.
The bottom line? So good of you to ask! Asking questions of others will help you develop into a more compassionate, empathetic and sincere human being, which will allow you to experience greater happiness. (And all this time you thought if you could just get a Ferrari you’d be happy, right?). Like any other skill, your willingness to practice drawing others out will draw them closer to you. Isn’t that payoff worth the effort?
Success Skills Coach Jim Rohrbach, “The Personal Fitness Trainer for Your Business,” coaches Financial Advisors around the US by phone to help them grow their clientele. To set up a Free Consultation with Jim, go to www.SuccessSkills.com.