Last week, I was at the Waldorf Astoria to meet with a “mastermind group” lead by Nick Sonnenburg (founder of Leverage) and super-coach Lee Brower. It was a group of like-minded people who have been circling around Nick and Lee who wanted to connect in person. I found myself in a conference room meeting roughly 20 people for the first time.
It’s interesting who jumps out at you in a crowded room, and why.
We were all taught how important it is to make good first impressions. Science has proven that people make judgments about strangers in nanoseconds. We all know the benefit of a solid handshake, of being appropriately dressed for a situation, and of looking into the other person’s eyes. Yet, I had to remind myself last week of how beneficial it is to focus less on the impression you are making, and letting go of your first impressions.
Lee Brower, founder of Empowered Wealth, set the tone for the entire week. I’ve known and worked with Lee as a coach since 2002. (Off topic, his book The Brower Quadrant, was recently translated into Mandarin. Congratulations, Lee!) Seeing him again in this room of new faces reminded me of something he told me many years ago: It’s more important to be interested than interesting.
It’s so easy when meeting new people to focus on your own behavior, on trying to be witty or memorable, or on making sure they have a favorable impression of you. But this weekend, thinking of Lee’s advice, I focused on listening to others.
I’m so glad I did. By slowing down and truly listening to others, I developed deeper relationships than if I had been more intent on showing them how interesting I can be. I was able to get to know the mom-daughter duo from Hollywood. The daughter had recently been a contestant on the television show The Bachelor. The mother turned out to be one of the most bright, friendly and passionate people I’ve met. Within a few minutes of intent listening on my part, she was sharing some of her most trusted relationships and imparting valuable information that will make a difference in my business and my personal life.
Listening, of course, is just one part of being interested. You’ve got to also ask questions. I was fortunate to get the time to talk to another participant who was from the San Francisco area. First impressions wouldn’t have given an accurate picture. To the casual observer, this woman might appear very low key, too low key to be the power player that she is. As I was getting to know her, it was obvious that she has game. Boy, does she have game, and I intend to be able to learn from her going forward. She’s a successful, serial entrepreneur who counts Oprah among her close, personal contacts.
Being interested instead of interesting brings rewards beyond cultivating new relationships. This lesson was my key takeaway of my training on negotiation at Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. Be prepared to ask questions to confirm or disprove your first impressions and assumptions. I also learned to be careful about what you assume about the other side, and to have an open mind when you go into negotiations. Or in my case last week, when you go into a conference room filled with new people to meet.
Here’s a challenge for my readers – when meeting someone new this week, try this mental prompt: imagine that you are turning-off a switch that relates to the task you just completed. And turn on a switch that relates to the conversation that you are in. This is a habit that some professional golfers use to help focus in the moment.