People have asked me on multiple occasions, how I can come up with something to write about every week on my blog. They ask me what my thought process is, and what my creative process is. Here is my answer. I enter the mental conversation that is going on my head at that moment. On Friday, for example, I was thinking about how IT leadership is still severely unbalanced in terms of gender representation. By the afternoon, I was thinking about the most effective ways to work with douche-bags. By the end of the weekend, the mental conversation that was going on (today) is recognizing how to connect with people, by building deep and meaningful relationships. It applies to people in your career, marriage, and among your peers. This is truly the secret to creating longevity in your career. This is truly how to stay in business forever.
I’ve been reading John Maxwell’s ‘Everybody Communicates, Few Connect.’ John reinforces the fact that communication is passé. Building longevity in your career and in your relationships requires you to connect. This applies to whether or not you’re delivering a presentation, or if you’re chatting with your kid. Here’s a glimpse of the mental conversation that normally goes through people’s minds:
- “Why aren’t people listening to me?”
- “What are they thinking about me?”
- “Why aren’t they following me?”
Notice a commonality? Yep. Me, me, me. So if you want to want to get into somebody’s mental conversation, you have to first get out of yours. As John Maxwell wisely wrote, “Everybody communicates.” Even my dog who can’t speak a word of English or any human language for that matter can communicate. “Few connect.” It’s connecting with people that counts. It’s going that extra mile, remembering their name. It’s remembering that they don’t like eggs and not serving it when you bring breakfast in for your team. Actually, when I think about it, dogs are great connectors. Connecting doesn’t actually require verbal language. Dogs can connect just by cuddling up beside you when you’re sad. They’re such amazing creatures, and so pure in spirit.
As Zig Ziglar so famously pointed out, “Help enough people get what they want, and you will get what you want.” One of the stories that I stood out for me from that book was a short anecdote written by a nurse. She mentioned in her second year of nursing school, she was writing an exam. She blasted through the questions. Then she reached the last one. “What is the name of the lady who cleans the building?” She thought it was a joke. She left it blank and handed in her exam. Someone in the class asked her professor whether or not that question counted toward the final grade. To her dismay, her professor replied, “Absolutely. In this world, everybody is significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.” That lesson stayed with her forever and to this day, she remembers that the name of the cleaning person was Dorothy
Joe Gagliardi, of Recruitment Partners, tells me that after interviewing a candidate for a job, he will always go to the receptionist and ask Ashton what she thought of the individual. It’s like watching how people treat their server in a restaurant. You can tell a person’s true character and how much he values people over himself by how he treats someone who is serving him.
Even Small Moments of Connection are Significant
Often it doesn’t take a huge conversational event to create a moment to connect. The other day coming home from our Chinese Lion Dance lesson, my 5 yr old asked, “Mama, does the world have a brain?” This to me is a glimpse of what goes through his little preschooler mind. And it’s nothing short of philosophical. So we spent the next few moments discussing the collective intelligence of the entire world’s population. I illustrated how each person has a mind and the ideas that they invent create amazing things in the world. That is how the world has a brain. Even the plants and soil and animals all work together to do their part. Everyone works together; everyone contributes. Because everyone in the world is connected, everyone in the world is part of the world’s brain. He sometimes astounds me with his thoughts.
Enter the Mental Conversation of your Audience
At the time of this writing, I’ve been taking an internet business course from Jeremy Frandsen and Jason Van Orden. One of the first things that they teach is to find a problem in the world and solve it. The question becomes, how to find said problem? What solution would solve it? How do you deliver the solution in a manner that is best digested by your audience? All roads point to “Enter the mental conversation. Act on it.”
More easily said than done. I know. The million-dollar question is, “How do you even go about doing that?”
What Would You Do?
In 550BC, the Chinese philosopher Sun Szu wrote in the Art of War, “Zi gei, zi bei, back jeen, back sing,” which means “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
Sometimes all it takes to understand the problem is to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. It requires empathy and a little bit of elbow grease. Scott Schertly tidily illustrated in his article on ethos3.com:
Do your Homework:
This is also related to number 4 below. It takes effort and preparation to enter the mental conversation of your audience. Start with the easy stuff: demographics, commonalities of why they are all here. For example, in one of my keynotes that I delivered for the CPA society (back then it was CMA), I gazed into multitudes of people. I realized that they had the following things in common:
- They’re all CPA’s.
- They all live in Alberta
- Most of them worked in industry (as opposed to being an auditor)
- Everyone had to go through the grueling examination process and professional program to come out with the CPA stamp on their foreheads.
That’s what I was able to determine even without doing any real homework.
Get to know your neighbours. I’m not telling you to go and creep their facebook page. Simply engaging in conversation about their life outside of work or their interests is effective. With all of my teammates and clients, I have come to know their family situation: how many kids they have, where they grew up. I sometimes even know what their kids’ names are. Now, I know that it’s not until you’ve reached a certain level in your relationship that people will tell you their kids’ and spouses’ names. So, it’s actually an honour to know the names of their family members. It means they like you and trust you enough to share something that is near and dear to their hearts.
Have you heard of a comedian named Milton Berle? (I hadn’t until Scott mentioned him. I actually had to Google him.) He was famous for his one line zingers: “You can lead a man to Congress, but you can’t make him think” and “I just filled out my income tax forms. Who says you can’t get killed by a blank? “ are but two glimpses into his brilliance. Milton Berle was especially good at testing the waters of his audience by asking probing questions and then delivering appropriate one-liners from his mental inventory.
Know what They Know
Nothing substitutes for doing recon for the subject on which you’re asked to consult. If you can’t offer any more value than your audience already knows, what good are you? The same thing goes for perspective. If you can’t offer a fresh perspective for your client, what value do you serve? In the wise words of Sir Winston Churchill, “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.”
Here’s another way of looking at it. In my own experience in building an internet business, I live by this philosophy: In my mind, free advice (especially from a reputable source) is accessible to anyone who seeks it. Therefore it’s the standard. It’s not premium because premium costs money. Hence if you’re not employing the free advice in some manner, or worse yet, if you don’t even know about that free advice, you’re substandard. I know what you’re going to say, “But there’s a lot of BS out there.” Yea, there is. You still have to sift through the BS to find the gems. But not doing it makes you fall behind.
Don’t be a Star
Nobody cares about your mental conversation. They’re all too engaged in their own. They’re not here to see you. They’re here to extract information from you in order to make their lives better. So you will do well to remember that it is always all about them. Case in point: Back in the early days, when I pursued becoming a motivational speaker, I was engaged to deliver a seminar on relaxation and achieving peace of mind at MacEwan University. In my naiveté, I hadn’t bothered to use any external sources in my research. All of my anecdotes, all of my material and exercises had come from my own experience. For the full 90 minutes, I had regaled a number of stories and examples only from my own life. I got crucified in the reviews. They absolutely hated it! They thought that I was completely self-absorbed, and spent the entire 90 minutes talking only about myself. That pretty much marked the end of my short-lived pursuit as a motivational speaker. Lesson learned: Focus on them. It’s all about them. Even Scott agrees with me. If you focus on the material, presentation, and how the material applies to their life, you keep the spotlight on them. This works 100% of the time. And you won’t look like a pompous twit.
What if I don’t have a Team?
Leadership aside, this, my friends, is the key to building relationships in any area of your life. Whether or not you trying to build a dream team in your organization, or even finding the love of your life, 10 times out of 10, when you enter and engage in the mental conversation of your audience, you will connect to them.
I think that motivating your team is more than just high-fiving them on a job well done, or bringing them food as bribery… though food has always had a good success rate for me. It’s entering the mental conversation in their heads and engaging it.
At the time of this writing, Malala Yousafzai was just awarded an honourary Canadian citizenship. “I am Malala” was one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Despite her young age, she addressed the Canadian Parliament eloquently, with humour and a powerful message. Her message to the children of Canada was that you don’t have to be as old as the ‘very young Prime Minister Trudeau’ to make a difference. You can lead where you are. I echo this message. No matter where you are in your life, in your career, you have the opportunity for leadership. As long as you’re working among people, you have an impact on them.
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