- Michael Thompson
“Most people don’t get what they want out of life because they’re too self-absorbed to lift up their heads and take notice of the people around them.”
A buddy of mine who runs a very successful venture capital firm in the US said the words above to me when I asked him for career advice.
He went on to add, “If you can reserve just twenty minutes a day to sit down and think about how you can improve the lives of the people around you, not only will all of your professional problems disappear, but so will your personal ones.”
When he said these words I responded by playing it cool. I acted like I was already making the people in my life a priority. But the truth is I fell into the “most people” category that he was talking about.
At the time the world wasn’t giving me what I wanted because I wasn’t contributing anything of value to the people around me.
Over the last few years, I’ve taken his advice to heart and my friend was right — everything else has taken care of itself. My career is exactly where I want it to be and my personal relationships have never been stronger.
This is all thanks to taking the time each day to think about how I could improve my relationships and then taking it one step further by doing something about it.
Below are five of the exercises and mindset shifts that have paid the biggest dividends.
1. Head into each conversation with the mindset that you’re going to like each person you meet
When most people are in social situations, they’re consumed with thoughts about how they’re going to act and what they’re going to say. However, you’ll never get into the hearts of others if you’re constantly thinking about yourself.
According to Vanessa Van Edwards, the founder of Science of People, there’s one simple mindset shift that can help you to immediately better connect with others: every time you leave your house tell yourself that you’re going to like as many people as possible.
This may sound super basic and even cheesy. But it’s also deadly effective. According to an extensive study run by Van Slone regarding popularity, the most well-liked people in high school weren’t the most athletic, or the best looking — they simply liked the most other people. As a result, people liked them back.
2. Master a few conversation starters
I’ll be the first to admit that ice-breakers and conversation starters can sound fake and feel forced. Fortunately, you only have to identify and practice a few that feel natural to you in order to create more win-win relationships.
I’ve been using a variation of this approach for years now: “Sorry to bother you, but I’m writing an article and over the last few weeks I’ve been asking everyone I meet their opinion regarding this one question……” and it’s led to not only more meaningful personal relationships but also countless professional opportunities.
Human beings can be complex. But when it comes to building relationships, they can be quite simple. Most people enjoy nothing more than talking about themselves. Getting comfortable starting conversations that allow people to talk about their opinions, interests, and passions is a great way to do just that.
3. Journal about your day-to-day interactions
Creating the life you want is all about pattern recognition. Few exercises expedite this process faster than getting your thoughts, feelings, and experiences down on paper.
Journaling isn’t only reserved for startup founders or people trying to find themselves. It is also a helluva an exercise to help build strong connections with others.
Which conversations went well today? Which ones didn’t? What did I learn? Is someone close to reaching a milestone? How many people did I reach out to in order to let them know I had their back? Did I truly listen to people instead of chomping at the bit for my turn to speak?
There is a real power in asking yourself at the end of each day questions about your day-to-day interactions and then putting those thoughts down on paper.
4. Write down three things you learned after each conversation
I had a severe speech impediment as a kid. I told people that made me a good listener. This was a lie. Instead, my terror of stammering consumed my every waking thought, filling my conscious with miserable imaginary interactions. My fear of speaking ironically kept me from listening too.
Fortunately for me, I had a great speech therapist who recognized this. She taught me to prioritize listening to others in order to get over my stutter (smart huh?). After each interaction, my therapist encouraged me to write down three things I learned after each conversation. Over time, I began to stop worrying about what I was going to say, and I started to actually listen to what the people around me were saying.
Out of all the relationship advice I have written about over the last few years, taking the time to learn how to be a better listener stands alone at the top. It’s hard to add value to the people around you if you don’t know what each person values.
5. Connect people every chance you get
Over the last few years, I’ve made it a habit of reaching out to people I admire in an attempt to get to know them and learn more about their story. During these conversations, some consistent actions have arisen. One of them is that a great deal of these successful people end our conversations by asking me if there is anyone in their network they would like to speak with. Every single time I have left the conversation thinking the world of these people.
Is someone you know thinking of changing careers? Connect them with someone in the field they are interested in.
Is someone you know going through a hard time? Send an introduction to someone who has experienced something similar.
Like an enormous chocolate milkshake, relationships are best when shared. Sending a connection email takes all of two minutes and by helping other people to build more win-win relationships with others you’re guaranteed to find that yours improve also.
Take a moment and remind yourself that you’re going to find something to admire in each person you meet.
Practice a few ice-breakers so you can get better at moving small-talk to real-talk and connect the people you meet with the people you already know.
Take notes about how your interactions are going each day and keep track of what is important to the people around you.
The beauty of all of the actions above is combined each day they take twenty minutes (less than one percent of your time) while still leaving you with plenty of time to go after your own goals.
But you just might find that by helping others to get what they want, your own dreams take care of themselves.