When I was growing-up in the Bronx, my mother wouldn’t allow my brother and me to go trick-or-treating. She claimed it was begging and if we wanted candy, we should ask her. And, no, we didn’t open the door to trick-or-treaters as they were considered beggars! Over the years, I’ve always had ambivalent feelings about all the Halloween hoopla. My favorite Halloween memories, though, are of the times I spent with my godson, Finn. Yes, this is another Finn-inspired column!
When he was three years old I took him to a party goods store the eve of Halloween. It had a great candy aisle, but to get to the aisle we had to pass by a mechanical scarecrow that made weird, jerky movements. Finn called it a “scary” and was petrified. So, I hefted him into my arms, had him close his eyes and then I stood in front of the “scary” telling him that if he ever tried to hurt Finn I’d beat him up. Reassured, Finn jumped from my arms and ran down the aisle. It did wonders for my ego!
A few years later, it was the week before Halloween and I picked him up from school. As we were walking to my car, he let go of my hand and ran up to a kid who was half-a-block away. Finn grabbed him from behind in a bear hug. The two started laughing. I was baffled. When I asked why he’d “attack” the poor kid, Finn matter-of-factly told me that he tries to hug a different person each day.
We then headed off to a pumpkin patch where he found a medium-sized pumpkin that was too big for him to lift – or so I thought. He insisted on carrying it to the cashier at the front of the lot. It was quite a haul for him with a lot of grunting and a lot of dropping of the pumpkin, but he got it to the clerk.
Straw fears, generous hugs, challenging feats of determination – this is what I now think of when Halloween rolls around. Okay, and also how weird it was not to go trick-or-treating as a kid!
Finn’s all of nineteen now and so store displays don’t scare him, hugs are at a premium and he’d rather play an App game than lug a pumpkin. That’s how it should be – we grow, we progress through the stages of life.
Still, though, I cherish those memories as I struggle with my resolutions to not let paper-thin fears paralyze me, to be generous with my affection and to challenge myself to do what seems not doable.
Well, really isn’t that the surest way to find and seize life’s treats?
The point is not to live long – we live forever anyway.
The point is while you are alive, be ALIVE.
Last month I invited David (names changed), an LMU grad, to speak in my online UCLA class “How To Talk To Anyone.”
A few years ago, David considered himself boring – and it was affecting his dating life.
Although he’s smart, athletic and good-looking, he was a self-described “loser in love.” I invited him to my class because his story is rather unusual.
One Saturday night he came back to his dorm room a bit drunk and a whole lot discouraged. He’d gone to a party and failed to connect with any of the girls.
He went on Facebook looking for distractions when a pop-up ad appeared for a dating coaching site promising near-instant success with women.
The guy offering advice promised that his video would reveal, among other things, the secret to making every conversation have the “fun, seductive vibe all the best do naturally.”
Desperate and willing to try anything, David bought the video.
Somehow he was able to look beyond the cheesy hype and extract the key truths behind the hype.
He grew in confidence and learned how to engage girls (and guys) in conversation.
And, yes, he now has a great girlfriend.
David offered my class four key truths he’s learned – truths that extend beyond dating and that go to heart of being both engaging and confident:
First, HOW you say something is even more important that WHAT you say.
Non-verbal sets the tone, i.e. the basics of the look in the eye, the smile, and an assured handshake.
Second, trust the “60/40” Rule – upwards of 60% of what goes on in a conversation is beyond our control.
If a person has had a lousy day or is preoccupied in any way, then that will influence how they see and respond to you. You have to take care of and be responsible for the forty percent that’s in your control.
Third, understand the “value” you bring to an encounter.
If you don’t believe you bring any value then why should you expect the other person to value their time with you? Keep telling yourself that you’re “boring” and your words become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fourth, learn from failure.
Not everyone will enjoy you, yet you can learn from every encounter.
So how did I meet David?
I was a guest speaker in one of his college classes.
Afterwards he asked for my card and a couple of weeks later we met for coffee (ah, the good old pre-Covid days!). I shared my story; he told me his and I was moved by his journey from “boring” to “engaging” as it reminded me of my own journey that I began in college.
What Dylan reminded my class is this –
No one has to be “boring.”
Boring is a learned trait and so it can be unlearned!
Do you want to break through the negative thinking that is preventing you from being influential and heard?
To explore how one-on-one communication skills coaching can help you present you with enhanced confidence,
If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I –
then I am not and you are not you.
But if I am I because I am I and you are you because you are you –
then I am I and you are you.
The question people most often ask me is – what do I need to do in order to become more confident?
Even though I’ve named my website The Business of Confidence it is the question I personally wrestle with – what is this thing we call “confidence” and why is it so elusive?
A few weeks ago, I offered a workshop (via Zoom) and Tim, one of the participants, arrived early. He popped onto the screen and with a broad smile said, “I’m excited to be here. What do you have planned for us?”
I’ll admit – his enthusiasm, his confident enthusiasm, took me aback. Most times people appear on a Zoom screen looking distracted as they fumble with audio and video and then stare blankly like they’re in a hostage video!
What’s at the core of a Tim-like sense of confidence?
Recently, I’ve been sorting through files on my computer – article links and past emails from clients and students. I came upon this note from Bria, a workshop participant (sent way prior to Covid) –
This past weekend I visited Nashville for the first time. Saturday night I went to dinner with a friend and on the way out the owner stopped and thanked us for coming, which turned into nearly an hour-long conversation. We talked about her restaurant, her son, her family and her upbringing, I found myself completely taken. What made this meeting stand out was the level of attention and interest I was able to have during a conversation with a “stranger.” Typically, I won’t bother putting much time or thought into a conversation with a stranger.
I was struck with her “Tim-like” enthusiastic confidence. What allowed her to engage in a conversation with a stranger? What allowed that “stranger” to engage her in conversation?
In a word – CURIOSITY.
I’m convinced that in order to be confident you have to be curious – about others, about yourself, about life.
John Donohue, a professor of mine in grad school, maintained that every person has three great themes that drive their thinking in life. I scoffed as I thought I certainly had more than three themes. All these years later, I realize he was right!
And for me, one of my great driving themes is the need to be curious.
Now the second most asked question I get from folks is – how did I decide to go into communications work?
I actually don’t recall being interested in communications. I was interested in figuring out how to connect with people. As I’ve written before, I was the bubble boy living in a bubble while growing-up.
My parents socially isolated (way before anyone had to quarantine!) and so I spent a lot of time wondering about people. What did “normal” people do? I thought I was boring and I desperately wanted to connect with people.
That desire to connect propelled me to move out of my bubble and the most significant thing I did was land a radio hosting job at KFUV, my college’s station. Each week I interviewed people in various fields of arts and entertainment around NYC.
I was nervous at first because I believed that they had lived and I didn’t want them to know that I hadn’t. They were, in my eyes, sexy, sensual people with enticing stories. I was intrigued. I was jealous. I wanted to be included.
The irony is – people responded to my being curious and being interested in them. They trusted me and opened up to me and my questions. And, yes, slowly, steadily, I connected with people. People who were very different from me. And the differences began not to matter.
I became more intuitive and less focused on me. I learned to be aware of the slightest nuance – the hesitation, the stumble, the smile. People became less strange. Through it all, I became more confident.
At the core of confidence is curiosity.
Because if I can understand someone it will be less likely that they will have intimidating power over me.
If I understand my responsibility in a relationship, I can feel and be empowered.
We are most afraid when we are most not in control and we are most not in control when we are most not curious.
The truth is, we all live inside a bubble created by our thinking. Inside the bubble are the things we know, the people and the experiences we’re familiar with. Anything outside of the bubble is threatening because it’s unknown. And so, we tend not to venture beyond our bubble.
Being curious is how we venture beyond our own bubble.
How do we BE curious?
By asking questions.
My client Nick’s favorite question is to ask his clients, “What can I do for you?”
Gia changed her relationship with her business partner Luke by becoming unwilling to let him off the hook in difficult conversations.
Luke is a proud man who doesn’t want to appear to need help – not even from Gia. Gia shied away from those conversations that demanded emotional courage on her part.
She committed to being more curious about Luke’s fears. And she demonstrated that caring curiosity by learning to not end a conversation too soon – by finding one last question that could potentially open the log jam of Luke’s silence.
Her new fav question is to ask Luke, “if you did need help, where would you need it?” She’s discovered that an unexpected question, asked from a place of respectful curiosity is taking tough conversations to a new place.
Business guru Robert Middleton tells the story of when he sold his 2012 Toyota Highlander, the potential buyer had only one question for him after Middleton had countered his offer – “If you were selling this car to a family member, what other things would you fix or tell them about before you did?”
An unexpected question, sprung from genuine curiosity, turned an impersonal negotiation into an honest conversation about safety and reliability.
The buyer was satisfied with Middleton’s answer and accepted his offer.
Being curious and asking good questions can produce clarity and focus and in so doing change the tone of the conversation.
Being curious demonstrates interest that, in turn, generates trust. Real conversation can begin to happen.
How do you develop an attitude of curiosity?
Well, short of nabbing your own radio interview show, here are three curiosity-generating exercises that are easy to practice. Commit to any one exercise for a week and you will emerge from your bubble in ways that will surprise you!
Motivational speaker John Izzo believes that:
We can wake up each morning and the first question that emerges is: ‘I wonder what life will do for me today?’ But our days can begin with a very different question: ‘What can I give to life and the world today?’ The most deeply happy and fulfilled people I have met have been people who knew life expected a great deal from them.
Every morning for a week, begin your day by asking (and answering) that simple question: what can you give to the world this day?
At the end of each day, take five – ten minutes to reflect on what did you learn / relearn this day about yourself – your work – your life? What and who surprised you? Why? How?
Coaching guru Peter Bregman’s favorite question with which he challenges himself and his clients is –
What do I not want to see? And why am I afraid to see what I don’t want to see?
Of course, the answer inevitably is – if I see, I most likely will have to change or my life will continue to be uncomfortable.
My client Alice laments that she wants to be a better coach to her team – but claims she doesn’t know how to coach.
Being a better coach is rather simple – be more interested in your team. Be curious. Ask them questions that demonstrate you care beyond the perfunctory, “is everything good?” type of question.
Alice counters that she doesn’t have enough time to ask questions. When I asked what she thought was holding her time captive, she was stumped. And so has begun a series of tough – and eventually productive – conversations.
Here’s the thing –
The Business of Confidence is really the business of making the potential of you into the reality of YOU.