How to (Really) Connect With People: Up Close and Personal, Part II

I’d like to offer early in this series an anecdote told about Benjamin Disraeli, one of Great Britain’s more flamboyant parliamentary members and conservative prime minister during Queen Victoria’s reign.

His main political rival was the renowned orator William Gladstone and four-times Liberal prime minister.

A young lady was taken to dinner one evening by Gladstone and the following evening by Disraeli. Asked what impressions these two celebrated men had made upon her, she replied, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.”

Both Disraeli and Gladstone were politicians of extraordinary ability whose personalities clashed throughout their lifelong rivalries.

Gladstone’s style of debate was “torrential, eloquent, evangelical, vehement, and ‘preachy’; Disraeli’s, urbane, witty, and worldly, with a streak of romance as well as cynicism.”

What the tale above has always told me is that someone who is full of himself — even though brilliant — can be unlikeable as a result of pedestaling his own ego.

On the other hand, someone who is skilled in social interaction (as Disraeli was) understands the power of listening and how it translates in connecting with another human being.

Disraeli’s genius lay in assembling and expressing ideas in writing. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’re talking all the time.

I can just see the two evenings in perspective: A darkened candlelit walnut-lined dining room with Georgian crystal, and fine, sturdy Worcester china paired with gleaming English silver and the participants in formal dress.

There’s a slight discernable patter as servants hover in the background and the quiet, distinct murmur of tableware being expertly served and removed sounds through the room just under the buzz of the table conversation.

On the first evening a young woman is seated next to an elderly gentleman who is gesticulating grandly with his wine glass and becoming ever more boisterous as the evening wears on. He talks about himself and his accomplishments and in general, focuses the conversation on himself, pedagogue that he is.

She consumes everything on her plate and leaves the table feeling stuffed and uncomfortable.

The next evening finds the same young woman seated next to a man with his shoulders slightly hunched, head tilted in toward her, listening intently to her answers to his questions while he attentively and deftly handles his knife and fork. The woman is the center of this man’s universe for the evening and his attentiveness is causing her to bloom far beyond her ordinary borders.

She eats little of what’s on her plate but leaves the table feeling stimulated and excited.

This story is often told about communication. Two intelligent, eloquent men with two completely different (connection) results!

By making a conscious effort to focus on others — to practice attentiveness — you’ll find that all the parties to the conversation enjoy themselves.

If you ask far more questions of the other person than they ask of you, you’ll experience a meaningful and connective dialogue and the other person will remember you for how you made them feel.

You’ve all heard the old common sense adage; “God gave you two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.”

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If there’s one simple element to successful communication, it’s listening.

This doesn’t require amazing social skill.

It just requires keeping your mouth shut and not one-upping the other person’s story — not telling yours at the expense of another’s.

In general it requires keeping your finger off the trigger of your mouth.

It’s all about how you make the other person feel.

Bringing the concealed carry class insight into this, my instructor said, mid-morning, talking about bullet caliber, “The bigger hole’s better.”

The bigger hole you can make in the other person’s heart — the more you can touch their feelings — the more you can connect with them at this basic human level — the more fruitful your communication will be.

You have to get at close range for this to happen.

You’ve got to get up close and personal.

Communication is all about feelings.

That’s what we’ll talk about next week.

(Intro; Part 1 on communication techniques)

Maureen Sharib has been a “Socratic sourcer” her entire sourcing career; from the moment she first picked up the faxed list of Silicon Valley high-tech companies that was her target list to “phone source” in 1996 to today she has instinctively followed this method of investigative sourcing using (mostly) the telephone.  She is a proponent of sourcing as a synonym for success and envisions the craft moving away from a dangerously drudgery-paced life-form existence to an exciting investigative/competitive place within organizations where practitioners co-exist within a framework of market research, human resources, and C-level future planning. She owns the phone sourcing and competitive intelligence firm TechTrak.com, Inc. You can contact her at Maureen at techtrak.com or call her at (513) 646-7306.  If she’s not on the phone she’ll pick up!

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10 Comments on “How to (Really) Connect With People: Up Close and Personal, Part II

  1. I find it useful and enjoyable to gently direct conversations toward most people’s favorite subjects: themselves.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  2. Great article, Maureen. I often share similar information with people, and say that “communication should be in the same ratio as ears to mouths”. Meaning you have two ears, and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Maureen – I really like that you weave into your post the historical aspect of Victorian England – many of us GET that listening is key – that the questions you ask are way more important than the statements you make – but few actually practice it effectively as many are so eager to “sell” the job, company, location, etc…

    The context of your story is so illustrative that people may remember the woman’s experience in your story and mke better listening a part of their day. Well done indeed!

  4. I actually think that more important than listening is curiosity: about people, about the world. If someone’s trying to listen – because they’re coached to or told to or have read that they should – you can usually tell. They’ll talk about themselves and then say something like “I’m going to stop talking now; tell me how you are” — after you’re already drained of energy from their soliloquy (see antisocial #3 at http://community.ere.net/blogs/todd-raphaels-world-of-talent/2010/03/the-anti-social-and-the-social/ )

    On the contrary, people who are curious about the world and about people usually don’t have to even try to listen, they’re so anxious to hear. Instead of “how are you?” — a question that may or may not indicate a person has an interest in an answer — they’ll eagerly ask you questions: “Todd, I really want to know what you think of x? Todd, you lived in y city – what do you think of z? You know a lot about a, what do you think?” That sort of thing. No one has to teach them to listen because they’re always wanting to learn.

  5. Hi Maureen,

    I’ve been holdng on to this article for a while and finally had an opportunity to read it this afternoon…it was delightful.

    In fact I believe that at least one entire training class for anyone in a sales or management role needs to be spent conversation about the fine art of listening and questionning.

    Like the woman in your story, I was at dinner last Saturday night and one of the members of our party spent nearly 80% of his time dominating the conversation with stories about himself. It was boring and mostly uninteresting AND I spent most of my time eating and then reflecting on how stuffed I felt!

    Perhaps I’ll send this article to the fellow who was too busy listening to himself talk and too little involved with engaging others in conversation.

  6. Hi Todd – I completely agree with you about curiosity – certainly the best sleuths, sourcers/recruiters, influencers and salespeople all have it ingrained – but for some of us it is something that also needs to be exercized like a muscle from time to time…we encourage our staff to seek out large social gatherings where they only know a few people (weddings, fund raisers, etc.) and to have them “work” the room by not saying one thing about themselves the entire time they are there – but to ask interesting and curiosity based questions instead…

    I once had a friend of mine tell me about someone they met at just one of these types of events – they told me how interesting they were and that they were the life of the party…Yup – it was one of our guys who had said nothing whatsoever about themselves the entire night – but were curious about everyone else…

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