How to Prevent a Communications Breakdown During Crisis

How to Prevent a Communications Breakdown During Crisis

The ultimate test of a leader’s and an organization’s communication skills is how they deal with a crisis—natural disasters, crisis of confidence, acts of malevolence, strategic errors, acts of deception, management misconduct, and so forth.

It’s not difficult to see why communication is an important element of crisis management: leaders today have to tackle media that is unsympathetic to what it regards as management incompetence, shareholders and customers who are ever more demanding, legislation and regulation that is getting stricter, and competitors eager to pinch customers during times of distress.

Effective crisis communications must be able to have a consistent and clear message and present this message swiftly and regularly following a crisis.

Here are seven elements of effective crisis communication.

  1. Strategic Thinking: Think purposefully about what you want your constituencies (employees, stockholders, customers, suppliers, communities, the media) to know under the given circumstances. Many a routine problem has transformed into a crisis because too many people were told too much and the situation became exaggerated and out of control.
    • What happened
    • Who is responsible
    • Why did it happen
    • Who is affected
    • What should be done
    • Whom can we trust
    • What should we say
    • Who should say it
    • How should we say it
  2. Openness: When a crisis befalls, be prepared to talk about it internally and externally as assertively as you respond to the crisis operationally. Understand the expectations of your constituencies and go beyond what is expected or required. If you are not communicative enough, people may make erroneous assumptions about the crisis. Bad news can travel fast and sell best.
  3. Candor: If your constituencies should know about a crisis that your organization is experiencing, talk about it as quickly and as completely as you can, especially to those most directly affected.
  4. Concern: Keep the people most directly affected by the crisis updated until the crisis is completely resolved. Do not brand a whistle blower a troublemaker.
  5. Sensitivity: At the earliest possible moment, step back and analyze the impact of the crisis. Inform and alert all the constituencies that are affected. Demonstrate concern, compassion, sympathy, remorse, or contrition, whatever the case may require.
  6. Integrity: If you are responsible for the crisis or perceived as such, acknowledge the situation promptly. Be true to your corporate and personal conscience. Share the crisis action plan and seek inputs.
  7. Honesty: Learn from your mistakes and talk openly about what you’ve learned. Demonstrate your commitment to keeping errors and problems from resurfacing.

Idea for Impact: Reputation and goodwill represent a great part of business value. Protect yourself when faced with attacks on your reputation and competence. If you do not communicate effectively and frequently with your constituents, somebody else will. In the absence of information, your constituents can develop their own perceptions of the problem and its implications.

Think of a Customer’s Complaint as a Gift

When managers become comfortable with the idea that complaints are gifts, they do not hesitate in responding to them.

'A Complaint Is a Gift' by Janelle Barlow (ISBN 1576755827) According to A Complaint Is a Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong, the idea of complaints as gifts must be reinforced at every staff meeting and training session. The company’s policies must be aligned to support this philosophy. A Complaint Is a Gift‘s authors, management consultants Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller, restate some fundamental techniques for handling complaints:

  1. Don’t get defensive. When managing complaints, managers can be their own worst enemies! Instead of taking complaints personally, managers should focus on the particulars of a problem. Then, complaints become less disruptive and constructive.
  2. Say “thank you” and explain why you appreciate the complaint. Say something about how hearing the complaint will allow you to better address the problem. You create a more powerful rapport with customers by saying “thank you” than apologizing.
  3. Apologize for the mistake and empathize when appropriate. Acknowledge the customers feelings You do not have to see eye to eye with the person to acknowledge how they are feeling. Saying “I can see you are upset,” or “I understand why this ordeal has been frustrating for you,” will go a long way toward diffusing any complainer’s anger.
  4. Listen for what the customer wants to happen next, because it’s often easy to accommodate requests, as long as they’re not totally unreasonable. Promise to do something about the problem immediately. Then do something to fix the situation.
  5. Ask for necessary information and correct the mistake promptly. Look at the problem from all perspectives and ask the customer to explain his or her expectations and the reality of what he/she experienced. Ask what it will take to meet their needs or to satisfy them. Rapid responses disclose you are serious about service recovery and customer service.
  6. Check customer satisfaction. Call your customers back to find out if they are satisfied with what you did for them.
  7. Initiate changes to prevent future mistakes, make the complaint known throughout the organization so this kind of problem can be prevented. Fix the system without rushing to blame staff or policies.

Idea for Impact: Managers who ask for complaints will find that customers express their concerns more openly and objectively. Inviting complaints reduces the likelihood a customer will be upset or emotional. It is a way to nip problems in the bud and solve problems before they can aggravate.

A Little-Known Public-Speaking Tip

If you’ve expected to address an audience that you aren’t familiar with, it can be difficult to connect with your audience and build a rapport.

Ask the organizer for the names of a half dozen people who will be in the audience.

Contact them and find out about their backgrounds and their expectations for your presentation.

Thank them when you start your speech.

Doing this homework, identifying the specific requirements, and customizing your presentations will impress the audience. Whatever the topic, audiences respond best when speakers personalize their communication.

How to Respond to Others’ Emotional Situations

People Tap Into Their Support Systems to Gain Perspective on a Challenging Situation

When people get unhappy, they need a shoulder.

When they get vulnerable, they need a hand.

When they get upset, they need an ear.

People approach their loved ones when they get emotional and want to convey the pain they feel.

Above all, under the direct influence of their anguishes, people like to rant and rave. Once they come to terms with whatever caused their aggravations, they’re ready move on.

Contrary to normal assumption, human nature is such that people are not always looking for others’ advice. Even when patients go to a shrink, they tend to already know the answer to the question they are posing. They just want their shrink (or any interlocutor) to agree with their decision and support them whether the shrink shares their judgments or not.

How to Respond to Others' Emotional Situations

To Respond to Emotions, Stop Trying to Fix Problems and Just Listen

When a friend, coworker, or employee approaches you when he is upset, use empathic listening to understand his emotions.

The University of Florida’s Dr. Richard Rathe recommends a technique he calls BATHE (Background-Affects-Troubles-Handling-Empathy) that he says has been effective in handling conflicts with staff, family, and friends:

  • Background: Ask questions about the situation. Don’t ask for details at this time. Try to understand the different expectations and feelings at play. Steer clear of trivializing the situation.
  • Affects: Ask about how the situation affects your friend and how it makes him feel. Remember that people are often not entirely aware of their own emotions. Strong emotions often set off knee-jerk reactions that people come to regret later.
  • Troubles: Ask what agitates your friend most about the present situation. Try to explore the symptoms and causes of those emotions even as you withhold your judgment. Suppress your instinctive emotional reaction, stay open-minded and sensitive, and hear out the full message before you respond. Bear your friend’s foibles by reminding yourself that perhaps he has entirely valid reasons for feeling, acting, and speaking as he does.
  • Handling: Ask how your friend is handling the conflict or the crisis. Broach similar circumstances in the past. Skillfully ask questions that encourage him to focus on actions. Mention options he may have not yet considered. Even baby steps can strengthen your friend’s sense of self-worth and turn out positive emotions.
  • Empathy: Express sympathy, understanding, and support for your friend’s position and sentiments. Tell him you understand what happened to him from his perspective, even if you differ with his response. Identify specific sentiments (e.g. anger, embarrassment, or regret) to communicate to him that you understand how he feels. Tell him that his feelings are completely reasonable—which they are, given his point of view. Reinforce your friend’s plan to deal with the problem.

Idea for Impact: Empathy makes you easy to confide in. The feeling of being listened to without judgment compels your friend to respond with patience. Only then can he open up his mind to being influenced by you.

Jargon Has Its Place in Business Communication

Jargon Has Its Place in Business Communication

Jargon and Buzzwords Can Hinder Communication…

The media’s excessive loathing of jargon and buzzwords is somewhat unjustified.

Yes, business communication is inundated with clichéd catchphrases with murky meanings that add no real linguistic efficiency. People tend to use such language merely to sound intelligent and important.

Why not? It’s all part of “locker-room chat.” It’s only human nature to pattern our language (and behavior) to prove that we are “in the loop.” If others are looking smart or fashionable from using specific slang and buzzwords, we will feel enticed enough to belong to that clique.

… But Jargon and Buzzwords May Be Very Helpful

Jargon and buzzwords may be annoyances, but crisp communication often needs the use of the appropriate vernacular. Every industry, profession, company, and team has a lingua franca that’s full of well-recognized acronyms, phrases, and lingo for concepts and ideas. Ordinary words do not lend such efficiency.

When used properly, purposeful jargon can actually be an efficient way to talk about complex topics in a concise way—for example, phrases such as “mission-critical” and “key differentiators” may convey much significance when discussing the “strategic resource allocation.”

Idea for Impact: Don’t Use Jargon and Buzzwords Just Because They’re Trendy

Master the vernacular of the industry, company, and team you’re working with. Limit jargon and avoid the overuse of buzzwords. Use them only when it is sensible and pragmatic—to facilitate concise and clear communication, not just to look “cool” or to “belong.”

Remember, effective communication isn’t about demonstrating your fancy vocabulary or rosy language. It’s about communicating your message in the best way possible to the audience that you’re targeting.

Why They Don’t Understand You and What to Do About It

Have you ever left a conversation or a meeting and felt that you weren’t heard—let alone understood? Do you tend to get blank stares from people as you are talking with them, as if you are speaking a foreign tongue?

Here are things you can do to help people understand you.

  1. Get your thinking straight. Cluttered thoughts nurture confusing communication. Think of the best ways to convey your message to the audience that you’re targeting. Prepare. Organize. Practice.
  2. How to Speak Confidently in Meetings Keep your messages succinct and simple. The more words you use to make a point, the more confusing the point can be. Get to the point quickly and don’t beat around the bush. Be concise without being boring or terse.
  3. Keep your communications focused. Prepare your message. Stick to your objective. Get rid of anything unrelated or irrelevant to your objective.
  4. Master the vernacular. Speak the same language of the industry, company, and team. Insider-lingo not only promotes a sense of belonging to the “crowd,” but can also help to get your concepts across more clearly.
  5. Speak their language. If you have a chance, listen to comparable meetings and observe how folks communicate. What are their hot buttons? What interests them? What are their objectives? What is their line of questioning? Try to adapt your arguments by aligning up your points with things they care about: their hot buttons and their pet topics.
  6. Customize the communication. Some people are visual learners, others respond best to arguments in long-winded, written form. Some like analogies better; others prefer concepts discussed directly. Determine how the people you are communicating with operate—you may have to present your data and information in a variety of formats. Other times people like to hear stories, so tell your information in a story format. Bring some props, prototypes, and samples.
  7. Rally some supporters. Determine the key opinion leaders and speak to them individually before the meeting. They will also let you know how they feel about it, which could influence others in the meeting. You can count on their support to your arguments and avoid surprise reactions and disagreements. If you get their support, chances are that you will get the support of others. (The management consulting firm McKinsey calls this “pre-wiring.”)
  8. Don’t broach details straight away. Avoid being too technical or precise unless the audience is geared up. Start with broad strokes to see if your audience understands you. Only when they are following you, introduce the complexity and detail.
  9. Portray yourself as a knowledgeable professional. Avoid stating fact with qualifiers like “I think” or “in my opinion.” Avoid slang and filler words such as “uh,” “uhm,” “like,” and “you know”—excessive use of filler words tends to make you seem mumbling, hesitant, and unintelligent.
  10. Be sincere. If you don’t know something, say so. Avoid losing your credibility or bringing into question your insight, experience, or impetus. If cannot answer a question you’ve been asked, don’t fake the funk. Say, “I don’t know the answer at this time, but I will get back to you.”
  11. 'Speak Like a CEO' by Suzanne Bates (ISBN 1260117480) Disagree tactfully. Think before you voice your own opinion: Will you be able to justify it? When preparing for the conversation, list all your arguments and ask a likely challenger to lay out the possible counterarguments. Try to incorporate those contentions into your arguments.
  12. Be confident but don’t brag. Frequently, when people try to be confident and persuasive in a presentation, they end up being boastful. While there’s nothing wrong with demonstrating a bit of complacency, it’s best to cast that boast in terms a benefit to the customer. For instance, saying just “I have 10 years of experience in this field” is a boast. In its place, say, “I have 10 years of experience in this field. I can assure you that any problems that arise will be handled promptly and competently.”
  13. Don’t try excessively to get them to see your point of view. Don’t persist too hard to get them to understand you. Know how hard to push your point and when to back off.
  14. Get feedback. After the meeting, don’t hesitate to ask a sympathetic member of the audience how you did. What did the audience get from the conversation? How could they better understand you in the future? By asking these questions, you will have a much better chance of connecting with them in the future. Plus, by asking the questions you have shown to them that you care about them understanding. And that helps build the relationships.

Idea for Impact: Good speaking isn’t about demonstrating your vocabulary, intelligence, or talent. It’s about communicating your message effectively.

Become a Smart, Restrained Communicator Like Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, America’s founding father, statesman, and polymath, was a doyen of the self-improvement movement. His methods for self-mastery are worth taking a serious look at if you’re interested in getting better at anything in life.

In his wonderful Autobiography (1791,) Franklin discusses his once-foolish delight in spinning artful arguments and doggedly winning over his opponents.

Winning an Argument Aggressively is but a Short-term Ego Victory

'The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin' by Benjamin Franklin (ISBN 1492720941) As a young man, Franklin had a habit of fervently arguing his case in all matters and alienating people around him. He frequently ensnared his challengers with hard-hitting rhetoric:

I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis’d it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.

However, Franklin ultimately recognized that his take-no-prisoners approach of arguing was by no means endearing him to other people. His realized that his brash way of outwitting his challengers had been self-defeating.

Benjamin Franklin, Doyen of the Self-improvement Movement

Arguing, if it is to Be Constructive, Must Be Done Tactfully

In an attempt to develop amenable character traits, Franklin radically improved the way he interacted with others. He let go of all expressions of conceit and bold self-confidence. He stopped using words such as “certainly” and “undoubtedly” in his speaking and replaced them with phrases that signified personal opinions—for instance, “It appears to me, or I should think it so or so for such & such Reasons, or I imagine it to be so, or it is so if I am not mistaken.”

I continu’d this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. [Alexander] Pope says, judiciously:

“Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos’d as things forgot;”

farther recommending to us

“To speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence.”

Learn to Resolve Important Issues through Sensible Discourse

'How to Win Friends & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie (ISBN 0671027034) Franklin realized that this measured conversation and gentler interactions was helpful in preventing conflicts and softening resistance in those he wanted to influence. He writes, “This Habit, I believe, has been of great Advantage to life, when I have had occasion to inculcate my Opinions & persuade Men into Measures I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting.”

This rule of skilful conversation and interpersonal relationships later became one of the foundational principles in Dale Carnegie‘s masterful self-help manual How to Win Friends and Influence People—specifically, that our ticket to success in life is the ability to make others feel good about themselves.

Persuasion is Not About Outmaneuvering Others and Proving Them Wrong

The ability to communicate effectively, plead your case, and influence others is one of the most useful skills for succeeding in the modern world.

  • Learn to resolve important issues through sensible and mindful discourse.
  • Be assertive where you must, but never aggressive.
  • Be open-minded, understand the other person’s perspective, and keep your emotions under control.
  • Never insult, disgrace, or cause the other person to lose face.

Views, opinions, and judgments can differ, and these can and should be discussed civilly. However, to debate such differences vigorously so as to cause bad feelings toward is not necessary and is almost always counterproductive.

Idea for Impact: Arguing for the sake of deciding a winner is never constructive. When an argument starts, persuasion stops.

Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm on the Art of Love and Unselfish Understanding

Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm on the Art of Love and Unselfish Understanding

To Listen is to Love

Erich Fromm (1900–80) was a famous German psychoanalyst, philosopher and social critic. His best-selling work, The Art of Loving (1956,) has been translated into more than fifty languages and has sold more than thirty million copies. Fromm argues that one of the deepest human desires is wholeness and unity. Consequently, humans seek to overcome their persistent sense of separateness by finding love, that profound experience of belonging and unity that still makes allowances for individual identity and expression.

According to The Art of Loving, one’s character orientation and social outlook depend greatly on one’s ability to experience meaningful loving relationships with others. The principal responsibility in practicing the art of loving is overcoming one’s narcissism, which Fromm argues is tantamount to cultivating objective reality and embracing the spirit of generosity—doing cosmic good, in other words:

Society must be organized in such a way that man’s social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it. If it is true, as I have tried to show, that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence, then any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature.

The Art of Therapy is the Art of Listening

'The Art of Listening' by Erich Fromm (ISBN 0826406548) For Fromm, the first duty of love is paying attention to othersto listen and to understand. His less-popular, but equally noteworthy The Art of Listening (1994) explores listening as an act of love. Based on the imperfectly-edited transcript of a 1974 colloquium on psychoanalysis, The Art of Listening presents Fromm’s therapeutic method of dealing with the emotional distresses of people through listening.

Psychotherapists endeavor to listen non-judgmentally, understand keenly, and frame questions that will assist their patients work out whatever they should do to change their lives. Exploring this nature of communication between the therapist and his patient, Fromm explains that the therapist must offer himself as a thoughtful individual specifically trained in the art of listening. Fromm identifies listening as “an art like the understanding of poetry” and offers six guiding principles for mastering the art of selfless understanding:

  1. The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener.
  2. Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed.
  3. He must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.
  4. He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own.
  5. The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him—not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself.
  6. Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.

Even though The Art of Listening focuses on becoming a better shrink through listening, there’s much in this excellent book by way of techniques, dynamics, and mindsets that make for the most favorable listening relationships in life, as in therapy.

What it Takes to Be a Hit with Customers

  1. Be Trustworthy. One of the most important aspects of being effective at work is earning and upholding others’trust through your actions, not through your words. You earn trust slowly but can lose it in a moment—as Warren Buffett often reiterates, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Idea for Impact: Earn trust by making and honoring your commitments. Do what you commit to. Act with integrity. Do the right things for the right reasons.
  2. Responsiveness in Customer Service: Respond immediately to requests unless there is a judicious reason to wait Be Responsive. We live in a time and age of “instantaneous gratification.” People want immediate results—without delay or deferment. They don’t expect to wait. And if they have to wait on you, their resentment grows. Alas, responsiveness affects how people perceive you. If you’re slow, your customers will suppose you are indifferent or incompetent. If you respond promptly, they’ll assume you’re proficient and on top of your work. Idea for Impact: Respond immediately to requests unless there is a judicious reason to wait.
  3. Be Strong, But Flexible. Respect the rules and traditions but be adaptable to changing conditions. Be watchful and absorb from whatever you can learn—as General Electric’s celebrated ex-CEO Jack Welch once wrote, “The desire and the ability of an organization to continuously learn from any source—and to rapidly convert this learning into action—is its ultimate competitive advantage.” Idea for Impact: Flexibility with rules can be pragmatic in its own right. Learn to make rational decisions by balancing facts and emotions.
  4. Be Realistic, Not Overly Optimistic. Self-help gurus and the media have endlessly touted optimism as the “winning formula to success.” This obsession with cheerfulness has reinforced a false sense of realism and pragmatism. Optimists tend to overlook the reality—they develop a false sense of hope and become too attached to the possibility of positive outcomes. Unfortunately, realists are branded as skeptics and skeptics are quickly shunned as outcasts. Idea for Impact: Take an honest and levelheaded view, no matter what the problem. Embrace the possibility of failure. Plan for the downside. Don’t get caught up in trivial details.
  5. Be Likeable and Interested. Highly competent but unlikeable people do not succeed as well as their fairly competent but likeable counterparts. The American poet and memoirist Maya Angelou aptly said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Idea for Impact: Be pleasant, enthusiastic, and friendly—make eye contact, smile, and say ‘hello’ more. Listen. Be open and approachable. Appreciate the individuality of people. Try to be interested, not just interesting.
  6. Be a Good Salesperson - Much of success in life is really about selling yourself Be a Good Salesperson. Much of success in life—from getting a Starbucks barista to make a special no-whip, extra-foam latte with half a packet of Splenda to finding a spouse—is really about selling yourself. Every selling situation involves making a connection with an individual who likes and trusts you. An anonymous sales guru once said, “All things being equal, most people would rather buy from somebody they like… and that’s true even when all things aren’t equal.” Idea for Impact: It is useless to work hard and be creative unless you can also sell what you create. Learn to be persuasive. You can’t just talk people into things.
  7. Be Visible and Communicate Candidly. How you identify and respond to a problem or a crisis is the ultimate test of your character. If you do not communicate frequently, people will develop their own perceptions of the problem and its implications. Knowing when to step up your communications efforts to the right levels during difficulties can be a powerful tool in problem solving. Idea for Impact: Keep your eyes open for customers’ inconveniences, difficulties, and troubles as creative problems to be solved. Focus on problem solving. Be visible. Communicate and lead from the front. Learn how to handle upset customers.

Postscript: This Harvard Business Review article argues that, more than anything else, customers want just a reasonable solution to their expectations. Delighting them by “exceeding their expectations” hardly enhances customer loyalty.

Don’t Be Interesting—Be Interested!

Management Guru Jim Collins’s “Golden Rule”

Jim Collins's 'Golden Rule': Don't Be Interesting---Be Interested! In the December 2005 issue of the now-discontinued Business 2.0 magazine, 30 business visionaries disclosed their “golden rules”—attitudes they swear by more than any other. Jim Collins, the renowned leadership consultant and author of such bestselling management books as Good to Great and Built to Last, recollected a lesson he learned from his mentor, the American intellectual and public servant John W. Gardner:

One day early in my faculty teaching career, John Gardner sat me down. “It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting,” he said. “Why don’t you invest more time being interested?”

If you want to have an interesting dinner conversation, be interested. If you want to have interesting things to write, be interested. If you want to meet interesting people, be interested in the people you meet—their lives, their history, their story. Where are they from? How did they get here? What have they learned? By practicing the art of being interested, the majority of people can become fascinating teachers; nearly everyone has an interesting story to tell.

I can’t say that I live this rule perfectly. When tired, I find that I spend more time trying to be interesting than exercising the discipline of asking genuine questions. But whenever I remember Gardner’s golden rule—whenever I come at any situation with an interested and curious mind—life becomes much more interesting for everyone at the table.

The Technique to Become the Most Interesting Person in the Room is to Find Others Interesting

Becoming likeable requires creating lasting impressions in others by becoming genuinely interested in them In the conduct of life, people tend to focus more on becoming more interesting—i.e., impressing others with their personae and their stories. While trying to become more interesting is a worthwhile pursuit, it is certainly not everything in becoming accepted and well-liked. Becoming likeable requires creating lasting impressions in others by becoming genuinely interested in them.

John Gardner’s advice (via Jim Collins) echoes self-improvement pioneer Dale Carnegie’s legendary advice that the ticket to one’s success in life is one’s ability to make others feel good about themselves. In his masterful manual on people skills, How to Win Friends & Influence People, Carnegie writes, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

It is a common fallacy to assume that you must just be an interesting person to get people to like you. Observe this human tendency in the next networking meeting or social gathering you attend. Most people tend to be absorbed in just one thing: being interesting themselves—blabbing “I did this … I did that … I like this … I’ve been there” and offering bits of information that nobody else but them really cares about.

How to Build a Bit of Intimacy, Even in a Brief Conversation

Become genuinely interested in others and make them like you Making others like you amounts to making them feel special about themselves—making them feel that you really “get” them. The next time you meet someone new at a social setting, try this easy technique to be more interested.

  • The key to become absorbed in a conversation is to focus on being curious about others. So, tell yourself repetitively, “This seems to the most interesting person in the world. Let me discover why.” Look for opportunities to connect.
  • When you meet someone new, make eye contact and smile. Introduce yourself with a simple “Hi, my name is Joanna Kovaleski. I am Megan’s real estate agent.”
  • Pay attention and make them feel like they are the only people in the room.
  • Ask a question or two about the person before talking about yourself. “How do you know Megan and Eric?” “Is this your first time in Chicago?” As I’ve written previously, chatting with somebody in socializing situations should be less about discerning the details of the other’s life and more about building a bit of familiarity to initiate stimulating conversations, debates, discussions, and exchange of ideas about topics of mutual interest. These prospects will all be missed if your initial interaction starts with annoying cross-examinations such as “What do you do for a living?”
  • Ask a follow-up question based on what they have just said. Try to understand who they are and why they are there. Learn about their interests and hobbies.
  • Say more about yourself. Use what you’ve just learned about the other person so far to selectively highlight anything you have in common.
  • Then, ask one question to bring the focus back to the other person.
  • People love to talk about themselves; so, make them. Everyone’s got a story to tell.
  • Don’t talk too much or too little. Try taking your focus off yourself.

Idea for Impact: Become Genuinely Interested in Others and Make Them Like You

'How to Win Friends & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie (ISBN 0671027034) To be interested in other people—and consequently get them interested in you—is a significant social skill you must develop and hone. But don’t feign. As Carnegie cautions in How to Win Friends & Influence People, “The principles … will work only when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks; I am talking about a new way of life.”

The following books have helped me with improve my socializing skills. Perhaps you’ll find them useful too.