When I recently picked up my friend Danny at the airport, we’d barely pulled out of the parking space before he enthusiastically told me, “I just met the nicest woman on the planet on my plane!” Danny wasn’t normally a very excitable guy, and so I knew he had met someone really great.
“Awesome,” I responded. “What was her name?”
“You know, I’m not sure,” he told me, a bit embarrassed in light of his previous statement.
“Okay, then,” I continued. “What does she do for a living?”
“I don’t recall,” he replied.
I continued to ask questions about this mystery “nicest woman on the planet” until my friend admitted, “Actually, I guess I did most of the talking. Okay, maybe I did just about all of the talking.”
We humans love to talk. Just about all of us would rather talk about ourselves than listen in any one-on-one social situation. There’s nothing wrong with that; it just is what it is. People inherently care a lot more about themselves and their families than they care about you, and certainly if you are a relative stranger, they care way more about themselves than they care about you or anything you have to say.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with or even surprising about that fact, but it is a fact. The sooner you can embrace that reality— just about no stranger cares about you or what you have to say nearly as much as she cares about herself and what she has to say— the sooner you will get better at establishing relationships with people and wielding influence with them.
Since humans love to talk about themselves, if you can focus on listening, truly listening, attentively to the person you’re with, that person will appreciate you, like you, or even adore you the way Danny adored the stranger on the plane. Even if you don’t say a thing, as long as you continue to acknowledge that you’re listening, using eye contact and body language and the occasional “Uh huh” and “I know,” that person will adore you. This may be the easiest technique in this whole book! The secret to getting people to adore you is to shut up and listen.
As simple as this may sound, it’s true; although there is one major caveat: You can’t passively listen as if this were a parlor trick you learned from a book. By that I mean that you can’t do what many of us do when we think we’re listening, which is sit there waiting to talk. You have to actively listen and authentically care about the person who is talking to you. You have to genuinely focus. But if you can do this (and it takes practice), it will help you curry favor with and strengthen relationships with people every single time.
Just resist the temptation to talk about yourself. Even if you are asked questions, deflect or answer them quickly and then give the other person an immediate opportunity to talk again. Since most of us do love to talk, this may go against your natural inclination. If you find active listening challenging, the best way to practice is by practicing silence, as difficult as that may be. I love public speaking, private speaking, and, like all humans, talking about myself, and so I get how hard this is. But every time I do it, it gets easier.
Airplanes provide the perfect opportunity to practice this skill. Turn to the person next to you on a flight and start asking questions. Listen, listen, and then listen some more. Follow up authentically with statements such as “Tell me more about that.” You’ll be shocked at how quickly and how deeply you can get to know that person just by letting him talk about himself.
But this technique isn’t just about making a new friend. It’s about increasing the chances that you’ll get something out of relationships. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, or five years from now, you’ll be much better positioned to ask a favor of, get a tip from, or do business with this individual— all because you sat back and listened. For example, two years ago on a cross-country flight, I sat next to an attorney named Steven. I asked him a lot of questions and got him talking about his life, his goals, his kids, and his dreams. We didn’t have a ton in common, but I appreciated genuinely getting to know someone. At the end of the flight, we exchanged contact information. A year and a half later, he became a small investor in one of my companies.
Shutting up and listening works in understanding strangers, but it works even better in understanding friends and colleagues. Case in point: Three years ago, I tried this tactic at my company when I announced before a Likeable senior management meeting that I wouldn’t be speaking at that meeting no matter what. At first some (including me) were shocked that I intended only to sit back and listen, but when I did, I gained more insight into our business and its senior executives in just one hour than I had in weeks. And they felt more understood, empowered, and respected than ever before— and it made them like me better as a boss, as well!
The efficacy of this tactic was demonstrated once more last year when I went on a leadership retreat with several close entrepreneur friends. Our leader suggested we have a “silent breakfast,” and I liked it so much, I decided to remain silent for several hours afterward. Not only was I way more attuned to the people and environment around me, I was also more appreciated. One close friend said to me, perhaps jokingly, “You know, Dave, I really like you a lot more when you’re silent than when you’re talking.”
Remember that people care more about themselves than they care about you. People want to talk about themselves. Listening and letting people talk is key to winning them over in life, in business, and in all human relationships. Once you can tap into people’s desire to talk about themselves and feel listened to, you’ll be able to build more rapport with and eventually influence everyone you know and meet.
The famed author and speaker Dale Carnegie said, “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.”
Allow me to paraphrase:
If you don’t believe me, I urge you to practice. Just give it a try, even for one conversation, and tweet me (@ DaveKerpen)
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