Most of us want to be liked and admired by other people. So in social settings we find ourselves constantly returning to our favorite topic: us. We try to impress anyone who will listen with our job, accomplishments, how much we know, or the neighborhood we live in. And while that may work some of the time, usually it just results in us coming across as the kind of arrogant, self-absorbed know-it-all nobody likes or wants to spend time with.
Ironically, the best way to make people like you and want to spend more time with you isn’t by proudly sharing everything impressive about you. It’s by humbly sharing only a little. Consider as evidence the following scene from a dinner party in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2012.
Pete Leibman attended the party hosted by a friend of his. After some initial mingling, each person was asked to describe him- or herself to the group in less than sixty seconds. Pete was fascinated with what he saw his fellow partygoers do with their one minute. He noticed most people seemed to fall into one of four types, each of which he named appropriately.
The first group he named Self-Absorbed Sally/Stanley. He recalls one member of this group who “missed the majority of the event because she showed up over one hour late. During the second round of introductions, she started off by saying how busy she is because she runs two businesses.”
That left Pete thinking, “Yeah, we’re all busy. Whining about it doesn’t impress me.” But more off-putting to Pete was what she did while everyone else was speaking. “She scanned through her cell phone, apparently checking and replying to emails or text messages. When other people are talking, you should be listening, especially if you showed up more than one hour late.”
The next group he called Rambling Ron/Rhonda. The request to introduce themselves in sixty seconds or less came in the original invitation. At the event, the host assigned a timekeeper with a stopwatch to keep everyone on pace. But despite all that effort, as Pete describes it, “almost half of the room still needed a warning to stop talking. One person in particular must have gone on for at least three or four minutes, despite several cues from the person with the stopwatch that time was up. Even worse, after he spoke for four minutes, I still had no clue what he did for work.”
Group three was Conceited Connor/Connie. “One person in this group stuck to her allotted sixty seconds. However, she spoke 100 mph in order to highlight every professional achievement in her life. She rattled off the complete name for each of her four books. She dropped the names of five ‘major’ clients, and she also felt it necessary to tell everyone her life motto, some cheesy catch phrase that had something to do with being your best. Yuck. There’s no faster way to turn people off than to brag about how great you are or to lecture people you just met on how they should live their lives.”
The final group he called Humble Harry/Harriett. And he described one interesting person in this group like this: “He began his remarks by saying that he would rather give up his allotted time to hear more about a prior woman’s background. Everyone smiled. Then he briefly and humbly mentioned that he was a documentary filmmaker and that he loves his job because he gets to spend it with some of the most amazing people in some of the most beautiful places in the world.
No bravado. No name dropping. No ‘elevator pitch.’ No need to ask him to stop rambling. Just a regular guy who was humble, self-deprecating, concise, and who clearly had been listening to the other people in the room.”
So which one of these people do you like the most and would want to spend time with? More important, when you’re at your next dinner party, which of these people will you be?
As with all of these stories, I encourage you to share this with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.
- Which of the four types of people in the story would you want to talk to the most?
- When you hear people shamelessly bragging about themselves, what do you think of them?
- What do you think they think of you when you do the same thing?
- If you had sixty seconds to introduce yourself to someone, what would you say?
[You can find this and over 100 other character-building stories in my book, Parenting with a Story.]
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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