Resolution No. 3: I, Me, Mine…You
Moments before the attention span had started wavering. Now, thoughts drifted, eyelids drooped, head about to nod.
Haven’t we all experienced these physical and mental symptoms at conferences, meetings, or classrooms where either the subject matter was dry or the speaker or presenter was less than stimulating?
In a momentary state of arousal I pondered the blandness of this encounter. Why was this particular talk so…boring?
I found a reason to listen, not for content, but rather for carriage. Quickly I noticed the speaker had a large diet of the first person pronoun: I, me, and mine. The notepad in front of me transformed into a tally sheet. Over the next 15 minutes one of these three words made way into the talk 126 times. An average of once every seven seconds!
The lesson to me that day was not the intended subject, but rather about one of the surest ways to destroy a talk, a presentation, or even a conversation: too much of a focus on ourselves. Yet how often are we guilty of that infraction? In fact, I have already used a word referring to me five times to this point.
A story is told of a young man who was experiencing difficulty in making connection with classmates at school. He had few friends spending his lunch and free time alone, isolated. Saddened, he shared this loneliness with his mother. “Why don’t I have any friends?,” he asked. His wise mother asked him, “How often do you ask your classmates questions about themselves? Their hobbies? Their activities? Families?” And then she offered this insight, “In order to be interesting, be interested in others.”
The boy took mom’s counsel to heart. Over time interpersonal relationships and life in general became richer, more positive.
The practical application?
For one, become interested in others. Unless you’re dealing with memory issues, you can remember the names of their kids. Make it a game. Some friends were talking about their children the other night. I had been experiencing an especially difficult time recalling their names until visualizing a fishing boat with the initials JJS on the side representing Jeremy, Jonathon, and Susannah. It also doesn’t hurt to list those names in the context of a story. How about Jeremy and Jonathon were playing banjos on their knees on the way from Alabama to visit Susannah?
Another method is one that I’m particularly adept at called the “embarrassment route.” Not one that I recommend, but one I apply all too frequently. In this instance in conversation with Mark’s wife, you ask, “How is Mark?” to which she replies, “Oh, you mean Mike?”
Now you remember.
Second, what is the ratio of “you” vs. “I” in your dialogues? And not just, “How are you?” How about:
· “How was that vacation you took?”
· “What are your grandkids doing this summer?”
· “Who did you say you recommend for your vehicle repair?”
· “How was your past semester at college? What activities were you involved in?”
· “How is your workout program progressing?” And, as a follow up, you can always throw in, “Tell me more.”
As a final touch it does not hurt to do some follow up on the questions. For example let’s say the person/people took a vacation to Hawaii. If you have not been there, doing a little research on the 50thstate might prepare you for the next conversation to ask, “what was the most memorable thing to you about Pearl Harbor?,” or “what is the best location and time of year for whale watching?”
As this year progresses let’s aim to be more attentive to others. As we do that let’s celebrate the side benefit of being more “other” focused: we become more interesting.
The Seed Sower