We’ve all been there, standing in the hallway chatting with someone, or sitting in a meeting, or trying to survive a training session, or nodding off during a conference keynote. We can’t get around it–some folks are better able to connect with people than others are. And if you don’t think your ability to connect with others affects your ability to lead them well, you’re kidding yourself.
So is it a secret formula that some folks have access to and others don’t? Not really. At least I don’t think so. But that’s not to say it’s easy. In some settings I find it really easy. In others, it’s extremely difficult for me for whatever reason. If I try to break it down in my mind, it seems like there are a few things that seem to help people relate better to what someone else is saying.
1. Read more Socrates; “Know Thyself.” I know this sounds silly, but I’m serious. All of life is a journey to better understand yourself and others. For some folks that comes easy; for others, it’s extremely difficult. But it’s important that you know who you are and what you believe, especially as it relates to what you’re speaking about with others. Find what you’re passionate about, and where that passion intersects with what others want or need. That’s where your stories meet, and that’s where the connection can happen.
2. “Know thine audience” too. Ok, so Socrates didn’t say that, but the point remains. I’ve mentioned this before, but to the degree you’re able to, you’ve got to work extremely hard to understand the folks you’re interacting with. Why are they there? What do they care about? Where does that intersect with what you care about?
3. Minimize BS. From highbrow Socratic sayings to “minimize BS.” An odd segue, granted. But people can sense if you’re full of crap. For example, as a leader you can’t say you care about your team if nothing else you do seems to give that impression. Work to root out insincerity in yourself. Just be the unique, odd, flawed, creative person you are. Let ’em love it or hate it. But be you.
4. Find your focus. Hint: it should be on the folks with whom you’re speaking.
5. Have an unflappable belief in people. I mean this in a general sense, but you’ve got to believe that the people you’re talking with can make a difference, because the truth is that they can. I mean, really–if you don’t believe they matter, and you don’t think that they can make things happen, you’re wasting everyone’s time, including yours. And as an aside, if you believe most people are incapable of doing great things, you might be an overly cynical jerk.
6. Give hope. It’s not often I’d cite Napoleon Bonaparte as a leadership example, but he’s quoted in history books as saying that “Leaders are dealers in hope.” It’s true. Humans need hope. It’s important that you help provide it. Show them how things can be different. Show them they matter. Show them–even if they don’t yet see it themselves–what they can do to lead and effect change.
What about you? Do you connect well? If so, what’s your secret? What works for you? What doesn’t?