Bruce's Blog


The Most Important Person in the World

April 8th, 2013

My very dear friend is a consummate politician. Respected for his firm stands, his grasp of reality, his adherence to the "triple bottom line", and his transparency--his supporters love him and even his opponents respect him. He even dresses snappily and has an attractive, brilliant, successful wife. He misses the boat in only one area that I've noticed. When he is chatting with me at a public event, he is constantly surveying the room to see who his next contact will be. It makes me feel insignificant, like the fish who will get thrown back in if a bigger one comes his way.

Offer your undivided attention

The number one way to be an influencer is to give every person the courtesy of your undivided attention. Make the person with whom you are talking feel like the most important person in the world. "This woman is so involved with me that if wouldn't matter if the President walked into the room, she couldn't be bothered to interrupt our conversation." That's the feeling we want to elicit from everyone in our path.

Listen more than you talk.

I am learning a hard lesson: everything is NOT about me. The person telling me their story is more interested in questions that elicit more of what they are saying than they are in hearing about my similar situation. "Uh, huh" or "Could you tell me more about how you felt when that happened" are more stellar conversation than anything else we can say.

The more insecure we are, the more we focus attention on ourselves. If the world must stop revolving while we savor every moment of our recent disappointment, our global neighbors feel resentful and thwarted rather than enthralled in our presence. Who are your favorite people? The ones who interrupt you every few seconds or people who seem genuinely concerned to hear more of your story?

Don't discriminate

Admittedly some people are better story-tellers than others, but often "still waters run deep." Sometimes we have to entice the tale out into the light with sincere, probing questions. It is well worth the effort. Sometimes the story is too painful to hear. Hear it anyway. Getting it out into the open ear of another diminishes the hurt of it. 

Don't minimize it.

Don't top a hurtful story with one that involved more trauma, either to you or another person. Your broken leg doesn't hold a candle to my cancer diagnosis. On the other hand my broken leg, my sore toe, is more pressing to me than your experience--no matter what it is. The best response to sad stories is often, "I am so sorry that you had to experience that. Is there any way I can share your burden?"

Don't try to fix it.

See above. If you are being asked for counsel, the best questions are "What methods have you tried to use to solve this problem?" or "Is there anything else you can think of that you might try?" Rushing in with a solution makes you, not the person talking to you, the most important person in the world. They have a problem. You have a solution, one that has eluded them for years. Most people prefer a sounding board to a fixer.

Ask questions without judgement

The judge is more important than the litigator. "You should..." or worse yet "You should have..." are judgement terms with which we usurp the validity of the speaker.  Your open-ended questions say, "I believe in you enough to think you have the answer." If you want to end the conversation abruptly or if you wish to start an argument, begin with judgement words. A former senior pastor of mine used to remonstrate with herself and her staff's judgements by saying, "Yeah, woulda, shoulda, coulda; but I didn't." (Meaning: it is too late for telling me what I could or should have done or what you would have done. I didn't, so where do we go from here?) 

What other ways can you think of to make the person in front of you feel like the most important person in the world?


#1 Kathy Clements said:

Well said! Thank you for the reminders. :)

#2 Bruce Roller said:

Thanks, Kathy. As always I am reminding myself too.

#3 Melissa Anderson said:

I try to work on my temptation to respond to Person A's story of hurt or illness with a story of someone else's similar hurt or illness, not to top it but to relate to it. For me as a listener, my mind is making connections and relating things I have heard before, but I try to remember that Person A probably isn't interested in the simple fact that other people have had similar suffering. Is there an exception, though, if Person B's experience could be encouraging or instructive to Person A? Or is it more important to stay in the moment with Person A?

#4 Bruce Roller said:

Good questions, Melissa. I think there are exceptions to every situation especially when thoughts are plopped out blog style without a lot of consideration of ramifications. One answer is that Person B's experience might be more useful to Person A if we are trying to "fix" the problem. If we are just listening to the story, I would definitely want to hear it all out before introducing another character. What do you think, Melissa? Anybody else? Thanks for joining the conversation.

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