Starting Conversations

Last week we were on vacation in Denali National Park. While the landscape and wildlife were spectacular, what stood out most to me was how easy it was to start a conversation and connect with other people.

Whether it was on the park bus or standing in line somewhere, it was so easy to start up a conversation with people by simply asking a question like:

  • Did you see any wildlife in the park today?
  • How long have you been in Alaska?
  • How long will you be in Alaska?
  • Where are you from?
  • What are you going to see next?

It was equally easy to start conversations with folks based on a sports team, a geographic location, or some other familiar identifier on a person’s clothing. (“Go Packers!” seems to be a good conversation starter with people wearing Green Bay gear.)

It got me wondering why we don’t start conversations with people around us when we’re not on vacation. When I look at my own life, it seems easy to avoid connecting with those around me, even though there are so many of the same conversation starters in everyday life.

Why not start initiating conversations with people around us, even when we’re not on vacation? We might be surprised with you many interesting and friendly people we cross paths with each day.

Said No One

“I wish I had spent more time on my smart phone.”   ~no one on their deathbed…EVER!

Every day I observe people who spend significant time on their smart phones while ignoring those around them, even when those around them are family or friends.  That always makes we  wonder, “What on your smart phone is so exciting that it causes you to willingly ignore those right in front of you?”

The thought of our last days on earth tend to bring into focus what’s really important to us.  Usually, what we say is most important are those closest to us.  It is often these people that we would like to spend our last days on Earth with.   I say, “Why wait until our last days?  Why don’t we put down our devices and start connecting with those people NOW, before it’s too late.”

This may cause you to miss a few social media posts or spend less time playing your favorite game on your smart phone, but isn’t that worth it?

Hopefully, it is.

Covering the Basics

 

So which would you rather experience from an individual or an organization:

Column A   Column B
Someone who goes above and beyond what they said they’d do.

 

-Or-

Someone who says, “I’ll take care of that” and doesn’t follow through.
Someone who shows they appreciate your business through actions and words.

 

-Or-

Someone who responds to each of your questions with, “HUH?”
Someone who teaches you about their product or service and invites your questions and then answers them.

-Or-

Someone who shows up 40 minutes late for an appointment (without even calling to let you know they’d be late) and also smelling of alcohol.

 

Let me guess.  You’d rather experience Column A, right?  Yeah, me too!

It seems to me like doing the items in Column A and NOT doing the things in Column B are the basics of doing business, or even relating with another human being.  However, I’m amazed from my own experience (I’ve recently experienced each item in both columns) how many people don’t have a grasp on the necessity of covering these basics in a business setting.  I find it frustrating… and also encouraging.

I find it frustrating for obvious reasons, but I’m encouraged, because if there are so many people NOT covering the basics, I can very easily stand out, in a positive way, if I make sure I’m covering the basics in my interactions with others.  And so can you!

Covering the basics in our interactions with others looks like:

  • Doing what we say we will do.
  • Presenting ourselves well in appearance, language, and attitude.
  • Looking people in the eye when talking with them.
  • Being present and engaged with the person you’re with (Put the smartphone away!)
  • Being courteous and respectful of the other person.

It feels to me like covering the basics is a secret competitive advantage whether you’re in business, applying for a job, or just connecting with another person.

Let’s take advantage of this secret and make sure we’re covering the bases in our interactions with others.

Keeping Our Word

“When you promise a kid something, you’d better do it. They take it seriously.”   ~Unknown

When I came across this quote recently, I was reminded of a nephew of ours.  Last year when my wife and I went to visit him and his family, he mentioned a specific hike that he’d like to do the next time we came to town.  I told him that next time we were in town, we would do the hike together.

We’ll be going to visit him this summer and I’m already planning on doing this hike with him.  It’s going to be a fun time!

It’s not just kids that notice when we don’t keep our word.  Adults notice too.

Making promises or committing to something is easy.  Following through on those promises requires more from us than mere words.  It requires not only action, but a mindset that our words have value and that when we commit to something we’ll follow through. To do so, or not, says something about our word and our character.

Let’s be aware of the promises we make.  If we make a promise, to a child or another adult, let’s commit to following through.  Otherwise, refrain from making promises we know we won’t keep.

Using Simple Language

Psychology is an elaboration of the obvious”    ~William James

I first heard this quote in a psychology class during college and immediately fell in love with it.  Not only did I find it accurate with regard to my psychology courses, I have also found it to be an excellent reminder about effective communication.

When we’re communicating with a wide range of people, or with people who are unfamiliar with a concept we are attempting to teach, we should strive to use language that most simply conveys our message.  I’m not talking about “dumbing down” our content, but rather choosing to avoid unnecessary complexities when clear simple language will suffice.

There are times when both the topic and the audience warrant complexity, like at a conference for rocket scientists or brain surgeons, for example.  But many of the concepts and ideas we want to share with other people can easily and effectively be delivered with clear and simple language.

The next time you have a presentation or a speech to give where you’ll be explaining a concept to wide ranging group, consider using clear simple language that is free of jargon and industry buzz words.  At the very least, you’ll be putting your audience in a better position to understand what you’re attempting to communication.  And at best, you may even be able to influence their thinking.

Curiosity and Understanding

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I attended a Moth Mainstage event in Portland Oregon.  The Moth features everyday people who tell stories about their life without using any notes.  It’s just the speaker, a microphone, and the audience.

That night we heard from 5 different storytellers:

  1. A junior speech writer for President Obama
  2. An Australian lady helping her Hungarian boyfriend gain US citizenship
  3. A dad remembering a Halloween after the death of a beloved family pet
  4. The son of a man who died on Mt. Everest
  5. A Sudanese refugee’s journey across Africa, after fleeing from her war-torn country, that eventually led to the United States

Their stories were riveting.

As my wife and I were driving home, discussing what we’d just heard, we were both struck by how hearing someone’s story gave us an understanding as to how they thought about, felt about, and perceived their unique experience.  Even though neither of us has fled a war in our own country, we gained a slight understanding of how someone who has had that experience might feel, simply by hearing this Sudanese woman’s story.

Here’s the best part:  if we ever meet someone who is or was a refugee, we will have a better chance of understanding what concerns or fears they may be dealing with, simply because we were willing to listen to someone else’s similar experience.

I think it’s important to be curious about other people and willing to listen to them in order to gain a better perspective as to how their experiences have shaped their worldview, especially when they are different from us in culture or beliefs.

Be curious as you meet people that are different from you, and be willing to listen to them to understand how their experiences have shaped them.  It’s a great way to build connection with people you meet in the future that may have had a similar experience.

Words

Would you ever walk around deliberately throwing pointed darts at people, hitting them with a club, or punching them in the gut? Of course not!  In fact, if we did, we’d likely get arrested!  Yet everyday people are equally, if not more, careless with the words they choose to launch at others.

Words are interesting because they don’t have any preference on how or for what purpose they are used.  They are amoral and only become positive or negative based solely on how we choose to wield them.

Look at the contrast between the attributes of positive and negative words:

Positive Words Negative Words
Encouraging Discouraging
Affirming Tearing down
Loving Hateful
Caring Hurtful
Compassionate Condemning
Healing Crushing
Life saving Hopeless
Enduring Enduring

 

Our words have an impact on people, especially on those closest to us.  And though they can be positive or negative, they are often not soon forgotten.

This underscores the importance of the awareness we should possess regarding the words we use and how we’re treating others with them.  Are we being careless with our words or are we using them to encourage and edify others?  If we could see a visual representation of the words we’re delivering to others would they resemble sticks, darts, clubs, and stones, or would they look more like a smile, a pat on the back, a high-five, and a hug?

We do have a choice regarding the words we use.  They leave our lips wrapped in our intentions.  Let’s intention to deliver positive words that bless others versus cursing them.  When we do, we’ll likely notice that the words we receive from others are kind and positive as well.