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How to Be Proactive in Your Relationships

Habit No. 1: Be Proactive "If you’re proactive, you don’t have to wait for circumstances or other people to create perspective-expanding experiences. You can consciously create your own."

–– Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 


Researchers have found that as human beings we are only capable of maintaining up to 150 meaningful relationships, including five primary, close relationships.
 
This holds true even with the illusion of thousands of “friends” on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you think carefully about your real interactions with people, you’ll find the five close/150 extended relationships rule holds true.
 
Perhaps not coincidentally, Tony Robbins, the personal development expert, and others argue that your attitudes, behavior, and success in life are the sum total of your five closest relationships. So, toxic relationships, toxic life.
 
With this in mind, it’s essential to continue to develop relationships that are positive and beneficial. But in today’s distracted world, these relationships won’t just happen.
 
We need to be proactive about developing our relationships.
 
My current favorite book on personal development is Tim Ferriss’s excellent, though long, 700+ page book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. 
 
At one point, Ferriss quotes retired women’s volleyball great Gabby Reece:
 
I always say that I’ll go first…. That means if I’m checking out at the store, I’ll say “hello” first. If I’m coming across somebody and make eye contact, I’ll smile first. [I wish] people would experiment with that in their life a little bit: be first, because – not all times, but most times – it comes in your favor... The response is pretty amazing…. I was at the park the other day with the kids. 
 
Oh, my God. Hurricane Harbor [water park]. It’s like hell. There were these two women a little bit older than me. We couldn’t be more different, right? And I walked by them, and I just looked at them and smiled. The smile came to their face so instantly. They’re ready, but you have to go first because now we’re being trained in this world [to opt out] – nobody’s going first anymore.

Be proactive: start the conversation
I agree. I was excited to read this principle because I adopted this by default years ago, and it’s given me the opportunity to hear the most amazing stories and develop the greatest relationships you can imagine.
 
On airplanes, in the grocery store, at lunch, I’ve started conversations that led to trading heartfelt stories, becoming friends, or doing business together. A relationship has to start someplace, and that can be any place in any moment. 

Be proactive: lose your fear of being rejected 
I also love this idea because it will help overcome one of the main issues I hear from my training and coaching clients – the fear of making an initial connection with someone they don’t know.
 
This fear runs deep for many people and may be hardwired in humans. We are always observing strangers to determine if we can trust them – whether they have positive or dangerous intent.
 
In addition, we fear rejection. Our usual negative self-talk says something like, If I start the conversation, if I make eye contact, if I smile, what if it’s not returned?
 
What if I’m rejected, embarrassed, or ignored by no response? I’ll feel like an idiot, a needy loser.
 
Our conclusion is: It’s better not to try, not to risk anything. But the truth is, the people we are thinking this about are probably thinking the same thing. If one of us breaks the ice, the relationship can begin immediately.
 
Be proactive: start with a positive tone and attitude
In my communication workshops, I say that each verbal encounter has three elements: words, tone, and attitude. Sometimes the tone and the attitude mean much more than the words themselves.
 
This means that in an initial contact, it almost doesn’t matter what exactly you say, but more the way you say it. A smile, a sense of openness, and attitude of friendliness count much more.

Dale Carnegie said this plays a critical role in how to make friends and influence people.
 
In the water park example, Gabby Reese didn’t talk with the other moms, but easily could have started a bonding conversation with, “Tell me again, why do we put ourselves through this?” Everyone would laugh, any walls of resistance would fall, and the talk about the pool and the kids would take off.
 
From there, they might have found common interests and values and scheduled Mom’s Wine Night Out. But someone had to go first.
 
This is true of almost every new relationship we have. Someone had to be proactive…to make eye contact…to pick up the phone for a call…to schedule lunch…to be the first to apologize.
 
Be proactive: pay attention in the moment
As Reece noted, today, we choose to opt out. If we have a free moment, we look down at our phones instead of looking at the people around us. We never know who is nearby and what relationship might have passed us by because we didn’t look or we didn’t take the initiative to go first.
 
I had this same thought two years ago when I spoke at a student leadership conference at a major university. After my talk, I walked outside the building where some thirty students were standing or walking, just looking at their phones. Seriously, not one person was looking up. (Later, I wished I’d grabbed my phone to take a photo, but maybe that would have been ironic.)  
 
My thought at the time, since so many relationships start with “love at first sight” or at least direct eye contact, was “what if your soul mate just walked by and you missed it because you were looking down at your phone?”
 
But students aren’t the only ones. We are all distracted by the noise of life in a digital world, where we swim in a sea of images, videos, and data that drags us like a riptide away from people and relationships.
 
It’s time to make a proactive commitment to engaging other people where we find them. Opting in instead of opting out.
 
Be proactive! Why not go first?

 
Writing this weekly blog is my way of going first with you.
 
Happy holidays,
 
John
 

P.S. –– To talk with me, please use my contact page.

How to Make Friends and Influence People

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. 

–– Dale Carnegie



When I’m working with a group of leaders and someone asks for book recommendations, one of my first choices will be the classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Most people recognize this book and author.
 
However, when I ask when Carnegie wrote this landmark book, guesses vary widely, mostly settling in the 1960s. People are shocked to learn that the first edition actually was published in 1936!
 
Carnegie, who became a famous writer, trainer, and lecturer, was far ahead of his time in unearthing the principles of influence. What Carnegie wrote instinctively more than eight decades ago has since been scientifically verified by researchers, including Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion.
 
Let me share the core ideas of Carnegie's great book, with the hope that you’ll pick it up and learn more. In his well-organized volume, Carnegie uses many stories from real people in history to illustrate his points, which makes it an interesting read. 
 
Carnegie’s central idea is that we can influence others with the simple act of showing respect and appreciation. 
 
Carnegie quotes John Dewey, who said that “the deepest desire in human nature is ‘the desire to be important.’” The book talks a lot about how people want to be appreciated – and how we can meet that need. It’s a universal longing for humans. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, encouraged, heard, and understood.
 
Here’s a bit more detail on three of his core principles:
 
1. Show appreciation
Carnegie credits appreciation as “one of the most neglected virtues of our daily existence.” Since we tend to focus on ourselves, we often forget to encourage and compliment our coworkers, children, spouses, or others we might meet on our daily journeys. 
 
He tells the story of a boy named Stevie Morris who lived in Detroit. One day, a teacher asked him to help her find a mouse that had been lost in the classroom. The teacher appreciated Stevie’s strong sense of hearing because the boy was blind.
 
It was the first time in this young man’s life that someone had shown appreciation for a talent he had. He now says “this act of appreciation was the beginning of a new life.” The boy had kept developing his keen sense of hearing and went on to become one of the world’s most famous singers – Stevie Wonder.
 
Carnegie urges us not to use false flattery, but to observe the talents and attributes of others and bring them to the light with an honest compliment. As a constant traveler, I can’t tell you how many upgrades in flights, hotels, and other services I’ve had by simply observing and giving honest compliments to people who suffer negative feedback all day long. 
 
2. Show interest in other people
It’s human nature for us to want to talk about ourselves. Some people think that the secret to winning friends is to make themselves interesting to others. But that’s not Carnegie’s path to making friends. 
 
“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,” Carnegie writes. You gain trust and respect from people when you show interest in them! 
 
President Theodore Roosevelt was known for his popularity among the people, especially those who served him. His valet wrote an entire book about how Roosevelt would always remember little things about the people around him. Roosevelt knew the names of the entire White House staff, including the kitchen staff.
 
3. Begin in a friendly way
If you want to win someone over to your way of thinking, it’s important to start things off in a friendly manner. If you jump straight to business or start criticizing or accusing, it puts the other person on the defensive. If you’re perceptive, you can feel a wall go up between you.  
 
Carnegie tells a story about a man who wanted to reduce his rent. Mr. Straub wanted to stay in his apartment, but couldn’t afford it. He’d heard that the landlord was mean and unwilling to budge on price. 
 
The landlord came to meet with him after Mr. Straub sent him a letter, telling him he couldn’t afford another year of rent. Straub started off by telling the landlord how much he loved the apartment and how well everything was run. The landlord was shocked because he’d never had such high praise from a tenant before! Without Mr. Straub saying anything, the landlord offered to reduce the price of rent. 
 
As Abraham Lincoln said, “A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” 
 
Conclusion
Overall, Carnegie’s real message is to treat others with interest, kindness, and respect. 
 
This simple credo will take you a long way. It’s not a gimmick or a fast fix, but rather a way of life.

Best wishes for the holidays,
  

John
 

P.S. –– To talk with me, please use my contact page.