Have you ever walked up to a group of people you very much wanted to meet, only to suddenly see everyone become uneasy and vanish away with a minimum of social courtesy?
I went through this a few years back, and the sting of this experience is still with me. The context was an informal dance held at a Club Med in Cancun. I had put on a lot of weight, and had been swimming openly in the olympic-sized pool. Maybe it was my swimming…? (wink, wink)
While it might be said that many of the people there were superficial, I needed to take stock of their response, and present myself differently in public.
Most of what we want in life, we get from others.
When we look at others, we find that they often mirror us. What goes on with us goes on with them. When we feel down, nervous or uncertain, we often find them react adversely to us.
Other people are constantly throwing us signals, not only with their words, but also in the intonation of their voice and their body language. Are their comments short and staccato or gentle and lilting? Do they seem to be moving toward us or away from us?
Erving Goffman wrote, The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life, pioneering the whole theory of nonverbal communication, which Julius Fast later picked up in his classic, Body Language, complete with lively illustrations.
Typical situations were dating, being interviewed by a prospective employer and sales negotiation. The implication was that the way you carry yourself, including eye contact, as well as your listening skills and overall tone of voice, could make a huge difference in your reception.
With years in sales, as well as having spent a lot of time in my youth meeting women, I find this to be true to a high-degree. As a shy adolescent, I used to practice eye contact to better connect with people in school, work and play.
Later on, with more and more experience, I began to watch other people’s body language to see if they were receptive to me. Typically, I would wait until receiving some kind of nonverbal acknowledgement before proceeding.
I got to the point where I was professionally acknowledged as being highly skilled at meeting people and initiating relationships. What started out a liability, I turned into an asset.
Being socially conscious makes your life easier.
You may be either shy or overbearing, yet lack basic empathy with people, what is now referred to as emotional intelligence.
In management theory, this is ranked very high in selecting potential executives. I have worked in large corporations where I met senior management close up. I was often deeply impressed with how well-rounded they were.
If you are careless about your appearance, perhaps as a workaholic, you may not give much attention to body odor or your breath. We sometimes put people off needlessly with old clothes or bad breath.
Working with people, I became religious about putting on fresh clothing every morning and always carrying breath mints. I have seen immensely intelligent people disregard this, only to end up needlessly alone. Being self-aware can eliminate some of your unnecessary challenges.
More frequently, you may fall into the trap of loving to talk, of being a “motor mouth.”
I have a good friend who graduated from an Ivy League school and became a top management consultant, working with high-profile corporate executives. He had written important business books and inspired a couple of documentaries. He later left his research firm to go into private practice, working with startups.
He will typically monopolize a conversation for an hour without even giving you a moment to respond. While he is brilliant and fascinating, this eventually wears off. He could have easily become a multimillionaire and never have had to work again a day in his life. Now he puts in great effort to find new clients.
I, myself, have fallen into this trap from time to time. I was interrupting people in mid-sentence. I did a transformational workshop where I focused on my listening skills. Soon I developed the verbal habit of stopping when others wanted to speak, much like you would stop a car from rolling off a cliff.
Being aware of yourself and your surroundings will help you to see a bigger and more inclusive picture, as well as improve, and grow.
Junior executives have been known to give their subordinates a very hard time. With brilliant academic qualifications, they often have limited experience with people. They lack the most basic management skills.
Today, a top management consultant will conduct a series of 360-degree interviews, where their superiors are interviewed as to their perception of their new manager, their peers, and even their subordinates. The consultant then works with that manager to adjust his or her behavior to inspire the group performance he or she desires.
You may not find opportunity for 360-degree interviews to know just how you come across to the most important people in your life. However, you can find a close friend and go over an appropriate questionnaire, answering as truthfully as possible. Or, simply begin paying more attention and observing yourself in different circumstances or situations.
Wherever you might be in the socioeconomic scale, you will most easily get ahead by giving your attention to others and finding ways to make them feel good, as well as to actually help them.
The supersalesman, Zig Ziglar, put it this way: “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”
You may be broke, yet you can always offer a compliment and give someone a smile. You can ask open-ended questions that invite him or her to respond. Above all, you can listen to someone as if they were the voice of God. They will respect you and never forget you.