I was recently watching an interview with Oprah. She said something pretty surprising.
She said that everyone she interviewed from American presidents to international superstars would ask after the interview, “Was that ok?” Everyone wants validation and wants to be heard. This is true for even the most powerful and influential people.
Oprah never used notes in her interviews because she wanted to make sure she was really hearing people. I love that. I often meet people who are more interested in climbing the social ladder than to really stop and engage with the people around them.
Early on in my life I learned the power of truly listening and engaging with someone. See, people won’t care about you until they know how much you care about them. And if you can show how much you care, then together you can move mountains.
Let me share the story of how I learned this.
The Lesson I Learned
As a teenager, I was at a charity event where students auctioned off 4 hours of their time to help people out with chores. The money raised would go to help out those in need. The event had a nice dinner and before the auction the students were waiting on the tables.
I remember at my table was one guy. He wasn’t interested at all in bidding. That’s fine, I thought. He can enjoy the dinner. I struck up a conversation with him. I started asking him about his life and interests. He was initially a little cold but with time he warmed up. I asked him about his family and passions. I showed genuine interest in his life. And by the end, I felt like we were becoming friends.
Then they called all the students to the back. I was one of the first to auction off my help. It started off at $5 then $10. $20 then $30. As it started to quiet down I noticed my friend stand up and offer a bid. $50. I was shocked. Here was the man who refused to bid on anyone and here he was bidding on me. He then got into a price war with another person and raised the bid past $100.
It was in that moment I realized I had stumbled on an important truth. People want to be heard. If you take the time to ask questions, listen, and be genuinely interested in their life you can move mountains.
I mean, think about it. How good does it feel to be listened to? When people are asking you questions about your life and are genuinely interested. It feels awesome! And when someone goes out of their way to do that for you, then you are more inclined to help them.
Seek First to Understand
After I wrote my post about networking I got a flood of emails of people asking how to build up good relationships.
Here was once such message:
“I usually take small steps to make conversations, but most people who don't know me never warm up to me. I appear rude from a distance and people say I walk as if I own the world!”
If there is one single principle to follow it would be this:
Seek first to understand then to be understood.
Listen to people. Focus on them and ask good questions. Make eye contact and smile. Be genuinely interested in them. Talk about the other person’s interests. Make the other person sincerely feel important.
I have a few friends who do this extraordinarily well. One person is the former mayor of the city I live in, Stev Stegner. He is an interesting person I learn a lot from. But more than that, he is a great listener and asks fabulous questions. As a result, people in our community really like him.
How to Influence Someone
Aristotle wrote about the modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos is being ethical and having integrity. Pathos is the emotion of an argument. Logos is the logic.
The most important point is the order. You first need to be an ethical and trustworthy person. Without that, all is lost. Secondly you need to focus on emotion. People are emotional beings who can be moved by emotion. Lastly is the logic of the argument.
Many people start with logic. But your acquaintances aren’t often ready to hear the logic of your point before they know you are an ethical person and that they can be moved by the emotion of the situation.
There is a book you may like called How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s a book that dives deeper into this subject and has helped me a lot. The summary of the book on Wikipedia is pretty good too.