As an introvert, there are times I can find social gatherings a little uncomfortable or energy-draining so I have to find creative ways to stay engaged. But once, I invited myself to a reception for a chamber music concert just so that I could meet the guest of honor, it was the world’s greatest cellist– Yo-Yo Ma.

First of all,  I don’t know anything about classical music. I don’t even know what “chamber music” means. I only wrote that to sound more sophisticated 🙂

But the reason I heard of Yoyo-Ma is because he made the soundtrack for my favorite Kung-Fu movie “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.” I used to listen to that relaxing soundtrack over-and-over as background music while studying as a graduate student.

Back to the reception…

Watching Yo-Yo Ma work the room was inspiring. He wore a huge smile from ear-to-ear when he greeted people. His smile was pasted on his face all night, but it was a sincere expression and not like the Joker in Batman.

He hugged and kissed his way around the room; he seemed to flow from person-to-person like someone moving on ice skates.  He effortlessly conversed with strangers in a way I’ve never seen before.

First he hugged each person he was introduced to. Then he listened with his entire body and not just his ears. He eyes were locked like a laser beam on the people he spoke to.

His entire physical and mental concentration went into each word spoken to him. During the conversations, he spent more time listening than talking.

When it was my turn to meet him it was no different. As I was telling him how much I liked his music and the movie soundtrack, he gave me his full attention. He didn’t check his smart phone, pretend to be thirsty, or look for more interesting people (which there were).

I don’t know if he was faking it, but he made me feel like the guest of honor. He gave me his full and undivided attention. It was only a few minutes, but it felt like it was just us in the room. I heard someone say that people don’t remember what you say, they remember how you make them feel. 

I don’t know anything about his personal life, but after watching him play his instrument, I realized that he’s just as passionate about people as he is about his craft. This experience reinforced something that I learned recently in this book called “Just Listen” by Mark Goulsten about influence and engaging with people.

It’s really simple.

If you want people to be interested in you, your ideas, your world-domination plans the secret is to BE INTERESTED first in the other person. I’m talking about being really interested and not the fake kind where you just nod your head, but are really wondering if you threw out the trash before leaving home.

That’s the big not-so-secret-secret. You don’t need charisma to connect with people, so don’t let that be in excuse stopping from building new and better relationships.

People spend so much energy, time, and money trying being interesting when the secret is to be interested in others first. I’m just glad I had an opportunity to watch a master in action.

The good news, especially for introverts like me (and maybe you) is that this has absolutely nothing to do with charisma. Don’t compete for the center of attention. You don’t ave to be a black-slapper, or a comedian to engage with people. You don’t need the charisma of Bill Clinton.

So how can we do this?

This is my list of quick tips (reminders):

  1. Break the ice by introducing yourself first.
  2. Give a firm handshake.
  3. Repeat the other person’s name at least three times during the conversation. (helps to memorize.)
  4. Listen with your entire body.
  5. Leave your smart phone in your pocket (even when it beeps or rings).
  6. Ask questions about the other person’s interests/hobby/career.
  7. Listen more than you talk.
  8. Don’t interrupt!
  9. Make eye contact.
  10. Confirm or repeat something you heard. (For example, ‘You like to do _____! How did you get involved in that?’)

I’ve been experimenting with this at work. I manage nearly 40 employees so it’s impossible for me to spend individual time with each of them, but whenever one of them comes to speak with me I try giving 100% of my attention. I can’t do it all the time, but I’m getting better.

At least now I’m more aware of my behavior than in the past. I see each interaction, no matter how short, as an opportunity to engage.

Relating to people is a skill and like all skills it can be practiced and improved. But the first step is being intentional about it. You can’t improve by accident. But the most powerful place you can master this skill is in your home with your family.

You can start by being interested instead of interesting.


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