To some, the idea of networking at a business function or mingling at a party with strangers is as frightening as public speaking. “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if I don’t have anything to say and it gets awkward?” How do you push through that fear to connect with people?
In simply listening to the news you can hear many national and local stories of people experiencing the ups and downs of life. Despite all the smiling or frowning faces you see when you walk out your door into your world each morning, you can be sure that everyone you see or meet is going through something.
When I speak before large or small audiences I see a lot of faces. If you were sitting in the audience I could see your smile, but there is something I can’t see. It’s what reveals who you really are. I can’t see into your heart. I can’t see into your joy or into your pain. I can’t see into your story. It’s the same way for everyone you meet.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has something they are going through that you can’t always see. Here is something I have discovered as a motivational speaker. I get the chance to talk to people after my presentation and almost everyone I meet tells me a little bit of their story in almost every conversation I have. Why do you think they do that? Because what they have gone through or are going through now is very important to them. They think about it all the time. I’m honored that they feel comfortable sharing those things with me because some of their stories are very painful and some are very personal.
With the rise of social media we see people sharing their stories on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. “Look what happened to me.” “Look what I accomplished.” “Just wanted to share this…”
In the movie, Shall We Dance, the character played by Susan Sarandon made an insightful statement that explains why we share our stories. She says, “We need a witness to our lives.” In this huge world we live in, people are searching for significance. “Please notice me.”
And that brings us to this…What’s the proven way you can connect with everyone you meet? Be willing to deliberately step into their story. As you’re listening to what they have to say, listen for their story.
For example, “I really want to help, but I have to go over to my parents house. My Dad is not doing very well. I hope your event goes well and I hope to be more involved next month.” Did you see it? Did you see the piece of his story he shared with you? Stepping into his story means to ask about his Dad. “Oh, how’s your dad doing? I didn’t know he was sick.” Don’t worry about what else he may or may not want to share. Sometimes the story is exciting, sometimes it’s sad, and sometimes it is painful. Just hear him and respond with genuine concern. People always remember genuine concern.
A gentle word of caution here…
- Please don’t ever step into someone’s story to “fix” them. If you think about, trying to “fix” someone is more selfish than helpful. Who are we to judge who needs to be fixed?
- Listen to what they are saying without thinking of what you will say next.
- Be slow, oh so slow, to give advice if at all. How does it feel to you when you share something with someone, they respond with a solution and you weren’t looking for a solution?
How do you step into someone’s story…
- Respond to their “story” statement.
- Make a few notes and follow up later with a note or e-mail to them.
- Write special events they share onto your calendar and follow-up on that day.
- In your follow-up never say, “And by the way, we are having a special on totes this week if you are interested”. There will be time enough for that later.
This skill of listening and stepping into their story takes time to develop. If you practice this skill it will help you connect with everyone you meet. I know this works because I’ve had people I’ve never advertised to hire me to be their coach. I’ve learned that stepping into their story without judgment or condemnation or trying to sell anything but with support and encouragement, I make a bigger impression than advertising ever could.
“There is Nothing More Truly Artistic than to Love People” – Vincent Van Gogh
Don’t be afraid to step into someone’s story.