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Put Yourself Out There

I went to a local business expo last week. The first thing on the program for the day was a keynote speech at 8:30 a.m. I arrived at 8:00 and much to my surprise, they were serving breakfast. Tables were set in the standard eight-person rounds, and it looked like they were expecting a large crowd. The room was slowly filling up as most people had yet to arrive. I came alone, so I looked for an opportunity to meet new people.

At first glance, a few places had one person sitting at them, many of the people looking young. I made my way to one such table and asked the young woman sitting there if I could join her. I set down my bag, got breakfast, and rejoined her.

My tablemate introduced herself as Erin. She attends La Follette High School. She is taking an internship course and her teacher, Mr. Darrin Graham, brought them to the expo. Apparently, he does this every year. He takes students to the Madison In Business Expo to hear the speaker and has the students visit the vendor exhibits. They target a few of the over 100 vendors who offer products and services of interest to them. How cool is that?

Erin and 18 of her classmates were scattered around the room at different tables. They were not to sit at tables with fellow students. Their task was to introduce themselves and network with expo attendees. I love networking. However, I know it’s daunting for others. Can you relate?

I learned that Erin is a junior. She is interested in environmental studies. She is bilingual and helps Latino children struggling in math and literacy through Nuestro Mundo (new world), an educational program run through MSCR (Madison School & Community Recreation). She finds the work rewarding and says her students love the consistency they experience working with her. She also thinks we email and text too much and should have more face-to-face conversations. Smart and perceptive to be sure. Pretty real and authentic if you ask me.

I love the exercise Mr. Graham put his students through. I can only imagine he also told them no electronics at the table. How awesome is it that he asks young people to engage in conversation, to interface with adults, and to present themselves confidently to others?

Erin and I took copious notes during the presentation. We both used paper and pencil; how refreshing. After the speech (thank you Libby Gill, and Mass Mutual for sponsoring her), Erin and I exchanged cards. That’s right; she had a business card with her contact information. How professional.

Erin is intelligent, insightful, and inquisitive with a bright future in front of her. Kudos to her family and teachers for giving her the tools to be the confident woman she presents to the world. And props to her for the choices she has made so far and will make in the future.

Here’s what I learned:

  • There’s hope for younger generations to have meaningful, genuine conversations that don’t involve tech and text.
  • Take chances and put yourself out there. Sit alone at a table and see who joins you. You never know who you will meet and who will surprise you.
  • You might get breakfast, and you never know what remarkable experiences you might have.

Thanks for starting my day off on the right foot Erin.

Here’s to Having Great Conversations in 2017

Here it comes. The new year. What will 2017 be like for you? If on your list of resolutions, you resolve to “be a better person” or “get along better with others” or “improve relationships and friendships,” then read on. One of my resolutions is to have excellent conversations. I hope it will be one of yours.

Pay Attention to Conversations

I challenge you in the coming year to focus on your conversations. That’s right. Conversations. This past year, especially the last six months, have been wrought with people talking at each other, rather than with each other. Our behavior of talking at each other has spilled into the workplace. It colors our meetings, business deals, negotiations, and performance reviews. We are so bent on making sure we make our point that we don’t stop until we feel we’ve drilled it into whoever will listen.

So, in the wise words of Bob Newhart in the MAD TV 2001 sketch – STOP IT! Move on or back to having kinder, gentler conversations with cohorts and friends. You will be a better person for it.

Three Steps to Better Conversations

Listening

First, I challenge you to listen more – actually, listen. When you engage someone in conversation, take the time to listen to what they have to say. Listen for meaning. Challenge yourself not to be listening to respond. That is, try to catch yourself trying to insert yourself with what you want to say. What are they trying to tell you? If you asked them how their holiday was, listen for one thing to repeat back to them.

Empathy

Second, listen with empathy. Remember, empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (credit: Merriam-Webster). The root of empathy is “in feeling”. So, listen in feeling. What is the other person sharing and conveying? Do you share their joy in their telling you about their latest achievement? Can you relate to the stress they feel about work they need to complete before years’ end? Take time to listen and make a connection.

Giving

Lastly, think about what you bring to the conversation. Each time you talk with someone, you have an opportunity to give. Does the person you’re talking with need something from you? Perhaps it’s a bit of validation or acknowledgment for what they experienced. Maybe they just want a chance to tell their story. If their need is deeper and if you’re up for it, ask a few questions and see if there is something you can say or do to help.

Step Back in the Conversation

My advice to you is to stop talking at each other and talk with each other. Step back and ask yourself why you are engaging someone in conversation. Do you have a point to make? Or is it time to listen to the other person, really listen, and hear what they have to say. Take a breath, listen, try to understand the other person, and decide if you have an opportunity to give back.

Conversational Opportunity

2017 is rich with opportunity. A new year is a perfect time to think about who we are and how we want to show up. We show up with words and actions. Conversations are important – they are a chance to get to know someone and an opportunity to share who we are. A toast to you and the many wonderful conversations you are going to have next year.