I was at a local entrepreneurial gathering lately and landed in a conversation in the aftermath where I was subjected to such an interaction. This person was very excited about how great he was and how great his company was. I’ll give him points for self-confidence, but he was lacking a significant piece essential to relationships: empathy.
You know what billboards do really well? They broadcast a message. You know what billboards do really poorly? Listen. Billboards make rotten friends, spouses, coworkers, and neighbors.
So I’ve been stewing around a pretty revolutionary idea, and I think I’m ready to share it: let’s stop modeling our human interactions after a sign on the side of the road. Crazy, I know!
Relationships are the most valuable substance in the world. Let’s learn to treat them as such.
How do we do that? We empathize. We crawl out of our skin and begin to see the world from someone else’s perspective.
For all of us who struggle with this, here are some nuts and bolts practical suggestions:
1. Ask Questions.
Questions give the other person a chance to talk, which is your opportunity to gather information. Questions also show that you’re interested in what they’re talking about. Instead of asking questions that jump from one topic to another, try asking questions that take you deeper into the topic you’re already discussing.
Just listen. While people are talking we’re often tempted to stop listening and start thinking about what we want to say next. Don’t do that. Give that person your full attention and figure out what to say after they’re done.
3. Offer Thoughtful Feedback
It’s possible to give thoughtful, meaningful feedback that doesn’t hijack the conversation and steer it back towards you and your company. For example, recently someone was talking about how their company was beginning to use the Periscope app more often. I shared about an article I recently read in support for live video casting. I contributed without stealing the spotlight, and I consider that a big win!
I represent an incredible company, and I’m excited to talk about our team when I get the chance. But the mark of a confident company, and of a confident human, is that we prefer giving our attention (i.e. ears, eyes and time) to others, and don’t feel the need to constantly steal those resources from others.
Try it out. Next time you’re at a gathering (business or social), make an intentional effort to ask questions, listen, and give thoughtful feedback in your 1-on-1 or small group interactions. I promise your connections will be more meaningful, your relationships will last longer, and the business and deals will naturally follow.