Not long ago I stopped by a gas station near my house. I went in to buy a Mountain Dew and a Snickers bar, because those are both on my diet plan in prep for beach season. When I got to the counter I was met by an employee who was having an off day. Let’s call her Mary.
Mary was on the phone with what I think was her mortal enemy. I thought mortal enemies only existed in comic books and movies. Mary proved me wrong! She was letting this person have it, while a line of us waited. It was a wee bit awkward.
So I tried something. Once Mary hung up from her call she began flippantly ringing up my items, that is when I jumped in. “Mary, how long have you worked here?” “Too long…but I’m in school.” she quickly responded. “Ok”, I said, “Tell me what you are going to school for. Whatever it is, I am sure you are excited about it.” For the next several minutes she began to light up more and more as I probed with questions about her passion. While at first she was nonchalant, my interest and questions drew out some good in her. By the end of our brief exchange she had gone from angry, verbally destroying someone on the phone, and totally neglecting her customers to having a huge smile, being somewhat warm, and even telling me to have a great day.
Being transparent, I do not always respond to people like Mary by working to make things positive. When I do I notice that people’s demeanor morphs by showing genuine interest in them.
Every day you come in contact with people. Family members, co-workers, people at the gym or baristas at Starbucks. Every day you have the opportunity to bring out the best in another person. If you are a leader, this is a crucial part of your job description.
Since we all have the chance to impact lives, I want share with you 5 habits that give you a strong chance at winning with people no matter what the situation.
Look people in the eye.
Have you ever been talking to someone who keeps looking over your shoulder at other things or people behind you? How did that make you feel? Valued? Important? Didn’t think so. When you are talking to people focus on them. Attention adds value. One trick I use is turning my body so that my back is to whatever crowd is nearby. If I do not do this, my ADD kicks in and I am pulled away when something interesting occurs behind the person who deserves my attention.
One of my favorite blogs made some great points about the power of eye contact.
Make 3 phone calls a day.
Full disclosure, I struggle here the most. I have found that when I make 3 calls a day to people simply to connect with them, I gain massive amounts of relational equity. In the world of text messages and tweets, phone calls have become almost obsolete as a means of simply checking on someone. Which is what makes it so powerful!
Map out the rest of this week and plan to call 3 people per day. Schedule a 30 minute block of time in your calendar. Set a timer for 7 minutes per call. The sole purpose of the call is to simply let them know that they were on your mind. When the 7 minutes is up, tell them you need to go. They will understand and they will feel valued. Don’t believe me? Try it for a week and see what kind of feedback you receive. This takes a bit of work, but effectively communicating with people beckons us to put forth that effort.
A study done at the University of Michigan showed that people who smile more manage, teach and sell better than their competition. It is said that “small hinges open big doors.” When you talk to people, putting a smile on your face seems like a small thing. If you do it, you will notice big doors open up in the conversation. Physically forcing yourself to smile brings comfort to the people you are speaking with. People’s lives are often difficult, smiling sets you apart as a break from that reality. Some think that this is a weird practice. Do not worry about those people. Your goal is not to impress a few but to impact the one.
While not naturally in line with my personality, I have created the habit of remembering significant dates in others lives. Often I will put birthdays or anniversaries in my calendar so that I see them year over year. Sending something as simple as a text on someone’s birthday can speak volumes to them. Small gestures have big return. I read where there is more computer power in a single greeting card that plays Happy Birthday than the Earth had in 1950! That is crazy! While I have never measured computer power before, I know that small gestures like remembering important dates carries its own form of power.
This resonated in my life on the 1 year anniversary of my father’s death. My Dad died unexpectedly abrupt and left the void in my family. My Pastor and his wife were at the scene and walked through the loss with my Mom. Many things he did during that process meant a great deal to me, but on the first anniversary of Dad’s passing, he had flowers sent to my Mom. Not only did he remember, he took action. One does not forget an action that significant.
Learn how to learn stories.
People want to be known. Part of being known is having a platform to tell your story. To win with people learn to put them in the spotlight instead of yourself. Too often I have seen leaders get around individuals and totally dominate the conversation. Here is what you need to understand, if you are a leader with a strong presence, others are intimidated by you. Good stewardship of your influence is to disarm their fears. If you play to it and try to own the room, then you are serving no one but yourself. Your job is to put people at ease and level the playing field. Give others a platform to tell their story.
A good way to start is by having an arsenal of questions at your disposal. When I am in public and meet someone from my church I immediately ask these questions in no specific order: “Tell me how you found the church?”, “I want to hear about your family?”, “What brought you to town?” I will drop one question at a time and see where it goes. Typically I am able to get all three in. The key here is to ask and then be quiet. Give them space to answer. I rarely try to sell how awesome my church is. If I ask the right questions, they will do that for me. They walk away feeling validated. You both walk away with a new friend.
I challenge you to work these habits into your life. Step outside of your personality, enter them into your calendar, and make people a priority. You will make a difference in the lives of people in your path. Who knows, you may even have a shot at making the next "Mary" you run into smile as well.