We judge people based on our interactions with them. Their clothes, their looks, their coiff (yes, I’m looking at you Blagojevich), and most importantly, what they say. But remember, we are also judged by others on the same basis.
In difficult financial times, you’re eager to make a great impression. You want to blow away senior management with how brilliant you are. You want your customers to love you. You strive to influence business partners to work with you. The thing is, you’re probably trying too hard.
I recently had a couple of experiences that reaffirmed an important lesson I learned long ago but have occasionally forgotten. One of those experiences reminded me I hadn’t been applying the lesson and the other experience confirmed the power of the technique.
There’s one surefire way to guarantee people think you’re amazing: don’t say a word.
You read that correctly. Shut your pie hole and great things happen.
The first experience I recently had reminded me to shut up. I was having one of my many networking/introduction coffees that I’m such a strong advocate of. A friend of mine was in the same coffee shop a couple of tables away while I held my meeting.
When I was done with my coffee meeting, I said hello to my buddy and said friend asked what I thought of the guy I had coffee with. I replied “He was awesome! You have to meet him!”
My friend then tweaked me. Hard. “Kinda funny you think he’s great. I don’t know how you make that assessment when you talked for 90% of the time.” (My buddy and I have a very open love/hate/tweak relationship).
I stopped in my tracks. Wow. He was right. Maybe I was a little too jacked up on caffeine and did do most of the talking (those of you who know me well are saying “Duh Mike!” right now…). But here’s the funny thing… I did most of the talking but thought my coffee companion was brilliant… hmmm.
The more recent experience went the opposite direction. I had lunch with a possible new business partner. As we ate, she explained her previous career, her current company, the challenges she faced, client engagements she was working on, her daughter’s impending wedding in Italy, and several other topics.
I talked briefly about my company and the training we offer. I quickly touched on how awesome my instructors and business partners are. The majority of the time, however, was spent listening and eating my delicious broccoli and cheddar soup. It was a perfect example of adhering to one of my personal leadership maxims: you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
That afternoon, I received a call from my friend who had introduced me to the woman I had lunch with. He said “I don’t know what you talked about over lunch but she just called me and raved about how impressed she was with you.” Weird. I didn’t feel very impressive breaking up my baguette and dropping it in my soup (which again, was delectable).
Let’s see… Mike talks a lot and the other person is brilliant. Mike shuts up and Mike is brilliant. Counter-intuitive but true.
My hypothesis on the root cause of this dynamic is simple. No one thinks anyone is more incredible than they are. We believe in ourselves. We love ourselves. It’s human nature. Given the above interactions, it seems to hold that the more we talk about ourselves and what we find interesting, the more we tend to like the person who is sitting there listening to us and giving us an opportunity to shine.
The implication of this is clear – if you give someone else the airtime to talk about things they’re passionate about, they’ll tend to walk away with a more favorable impression of that interaction.
Try this: try shutting up today. Strive to only fill 10-20% of the available airtime in a conversation and leave the rest for the other person. See what happens. At the worst, you’ll be adhering to ol’ Abe Lincoln’s guidance of “‘Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt” and at best, your colleague/customer/partner/listener will walk away with a wonderfully positive impression of you.
Caveat: this approach DOES NOT apply to job interviews. You should have 60-70% of the airtime in those conversations so don’t blame me if you do something stupid in your interview and sit there like a brick then wonder why you didn’t get the job.