I was listening to a podcast on the treadmill the other day when the host made a statement so remarkable that I needed to stop my work out and go write it down. He said that the secret to avoiding what he called “The Abyss” was to stay engaged with people. Sounds simple right? But then I really started to think about it.
The podcast host was comedian Marc Maron and his guest was the eponymous actor Bill Paxton, they were taking about different times they had been in a funk in their lives and how engaging with other people is what kept them grounded and focused. Bill shared that the most satisfying times in his life were not movies in which he acted or things that he wrote, but times he had been a director or producer. The biggest thrill he found was in empowering other people to be creative and giving them a place to work. His production companies have employed hundreds of people; not just actors and directors but set designers, and art directors. Gaffers and grips. He found that it was incredibly fulfilling to let other people shine.
Engaging with people is the key to being successful: successful in business, in the classroom, even in life. How we interact with each other tells the world what kind of a person we are. It is like that in all professions where people are engaged with other people. Engaging with, and investing in people is the key to success and allows us to fulfill our destiny.
Connecting with people builds success
One of the best salesmen I know is my brother Hank Richard. Hank is currently Director of New Business Development for Simoniz USA and is an amazing entrepreneur and salesperson. The thing that stood out about Hank a long time ago, -and told us a long time ago that he would be a success- is that throughout his life he has been interested in people and what they do. On any given day he will have interesting conversations with CEOs, waiters, waitresses, baristas and managers; anyone he happens to come into contact with. He is genuinely interested in what they do and how they are successful, his enthusiasm and energy come out of a natural desire to connect to people.
“The reason most salespeople don’t like cold calling is because they are afraid of rejection” Hank told me on a recent conversation. “They don’t look at each conversation as ‘I am going to learn something new from this person, or I am going to see what he does.’ Instead they are all focused on ‘How am I going to sell this guy something?’. That is the exact wrong way to be successful.” Hank knows that to be a good salesperson, you need to engage and be engaging. “You have to look at it not as if you are trying sell them something, you are trying to connect with people and learn their story. “
As Hank said, most relationships are not about selling a product; they are about engaging with them and getting to know them. Once you have established a relationship, then it can grow.
Engaging with people and learning their story is the key to not just sales but to success. In the teaching world, I counsel young teachers to make those connections as well. There was a Theodore Roosevelt quote that I always share with my young teachers. “They will not care what you know until they know that you care.” Students can get information from almost anywhere, but a good teacher lets them know that their (the student’s) -not the teacher’s- success is most important to them. Treating the student as a person first, student second is the key to bridging many gaps. If you can get them on your side, they will run through a wall for you.
We all remember the teacher who made us feel special. We probably cannot remember what they taught us as much as we remember the connection we had with them. One of the tasks that teachers dread the most is calling the parents at home; but how they approach that call is what makes all the difference. Building a relationship with the home is far more important than just telling them what Junior got on a test.
Investing in people
Great entrepreneurs knew this as well. I love looking at pictures of great entrepreneurs. Not the photos of them behind their desks, but on the factory floor interacting with all the people that their work and ingenuity has provided for. I grew up in the town of Akron Ohio and we lived in an area called “Firestone Park”. The community got its name because the homes that we lived in were built to give the employees of Firestone Tire and Rubber a place to live and still walk to work. Harvey Firestone owned all the land in the area and donated lots to anyone wanting to put up a school or a church. In the end, Mr. Firestone provided employment, housing, education, recreation, and areas of worship for his employees. He invested in his people, and they in turn grew to build the world’s largest tire company.
We tend to hold our captains of industry aloft as if they are single entities, but they got there because they cared about people. The became who they are, not in isolation or by luck, but by seeking out and investing in people. They know that the person who is working for them is more than just an employee. Like Paxton says on the podcast, giving people a place where they can earn a living and thrive is the most fulfilling thing a person can do. The car dealer who chats with the lube tech and mechanic every bit as much as he does his salespeople knows this. The principal who knows the custodians and cafeteria workers as much as the teachers and students gets it as well. Engaging with people and building them up is the best way to grow both your business and yourself.
Maron and Paxton were talking about ways that they have been able to fight off depression and anxiety. Exploration of yourself can be helpful, but often times all it does is isolate you and further your journey “Into the abyss”. Getting out and engaging with one another fights off that urge and makes us better people. Psychology Today magazine acknowledges it all the time. “Even the simple act of putting yourself in a social atmosphere can lift your spirits.” Being out and talking to people, even when you don’t feel like it can enrich us personally and professionally.
It sounds so simple and I try to practice it every day. I started engaging with people years ago when walking into a Subway restaurant. All of us hear the courteous but bland “Welcome to Subway” when we hit the door. I began responding in a cheerful voice “WHY THANK YOU, GLAD TO BE HERE!” and then watch the startled smiles on the sandwich artists face. It never fails to make them smile, and is a great way to start a transaction. It is the same way when entering an office with a cheerful” Good Morning Everybody” in a tone that makes Norm from Cheers proud.
In an increasingly polarizing world, we need to remember that the secret to our future is not in holing up and waiting for it to go away, but in reaching out and talking to each other. Engaging with our neighbor and people we rarely know. Being interested and wanting to learn from somebody is the secret to building a relationship, making a sale, getting a kid to pass and possibly saving the world. No small feat, but not that hard either.