Look, Listen and Learn

I have a dirty little secret.  Actually, it’s not really dirty but I don’t tell too many people about it.

I watch people.  A lot.  Not a weird staring, stalker, freak kind of watching but people fascinate me.  I think it started when I was a kid.  My Mom was a single parent and there were plenty of times that I had to keep myself busy when she went back to college to improve our lives.  I sat for hours at her university in the common area reading books and watching people.

I learned at a very young age that you can discover a lot about a person by simply, quietly watching.  Over the years, it almost became a hobby.  I would meet new people and really pay attention to the little things.  Not just outward appearances, because those can be deceiving, but things like mannerisms, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language.   I learned to listen between the lines.  To hear what they were really saying that was not being said.

I have even gone so far as to listen to someone new and, in my head, see how many things I can accurately figure out about that person’s life, personality, likes and dislikes just by those little cues and then have a conversation with them to see how close I really was.

I am enthralled by people who are different, interesting and exciting.  I have also found that, if you don’t draw many of them out, you will never hear their story.  A good recent example is my parking attendant at work.  He has been the parking attendant at my lot for around a year.  I have slowly come to know him a little better over the past months.  He recently opened up and started telling me some of his story and how he came from Somalia to Oregon.  Fascinating stories that make you truly appreciate how lucky we are to have the freedom that have.

One of the big industry buzzwords right now is “relationships.”   Whether it is making a sale, a new connection or trying to expand your horizons in your work – you are not likely going to get very far if you don’t learn how to build relationships.

The old phony platitudes and cocktail hour talk just doesn’t cut it anymore.  If you want to grow as a professional, you have to go deeper.  You have to get to know the real person behind  those ever so carefully placed masks.  People are so conditioned to expect others not to really care that they are rather surprised when someone does.  They really notice and it makes a real difference.

I love statistics but the truth is that they don’t mean much in a one-on-one situation.  Every person is unique and special and deserves to be treated as such.  They deserve to have someone take the time to get to know them.  I mean really know them.

So next time you are in a situation to make a new connection, consider changing the way you approach new people in work or in your personal life.  Consider that it might take more than 5 minutes to make that connection.  Consider listening, I mean really listening, instead of the popular ever present need to talk someone to death.

Consider that first impressions are not always everything.  Maybe that person is nervous, an introvert who is uncomfortable in groups or someone who just doesn’t know anyone.  Watch for that person on the perimeter of the room or the one who is being particularly quiet.  Pay attention and look for the little things.  Often, you will find that noticing those little things is what will draw you to the people who are truly special and unique.  The fact that you took the time and effort to really pay attention will resonate with that person.  It will leave a lasting impression and it will be a positive one.  That person will walk away feeling special that you took the extra time instead of doing the typical 5 minute big talk you see at many business functions.  That person will remember you and it will be for the right reasons.

Just once, try listening more than you talk.  Try quiet observation to see what you can glean before you make the approach.

These methods have served me well and I consider myself fortunate to have so many interesting and amazing people in my life.

Open your mind, open your eyes and close your mouth.  Now the adventure begins.

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