Every time we have a Customer Development Conference, my boss asks me to mingle with higher bosses. He told me that a small talk will do. I understand that this kind of initiative will build my rapport with them and, in the long term, will be a criterion for my professional advancement. However, I believe I took this for granted. In between sessions, I get gallons of tea and several pieces of Sofitel’s Chocolate Pistachio Cookies (the best, btw) and talk with my immediate colleagues instead. After some months of building relationships in the company I work for, I realized how important my boss’s advice to me is. Moreover, reading John Maxwell’s Everyone Communicates, Few Connect nailed that advise to the unassailable forces of modern business principles.
As a communication major back in college, I am bombarded with the following Speech Communication courses: Communication III, Speech Communication (SpCom); SpCom 136 , Form of Public Address; SpCom 133, Debate and Argumentation; and SpCom 137, Group Discussion and Conference Leadership (You can see BA Organizational Communication’s curriculum here). So after earning an OrCom degree, it is highly expected that I’ll be a performing Organizational Communication professional. However, I feel that my communication prowess still needs improvement or needs a supplement related to my field. All along, I felt I am an above average communicator until I encountered difficulties in the workplace and until I finished reading the said book. This blog entry would summarize the book with my related experiences and/or reactions after each part.
Like Maxwell’s Self Improvement 101, this book is logically divided into two parts: Connecting Principles (theories) and Connecting Practices (applications).
1. Connecting increases your influence in every situation.
Maxwell didn’t differentiate communicating from connecting. However, given the title of the book, communicating is a default human activity–everyone communicates. He defined the term “connecting” because he said that such activity is practiced by “few”:
Connecting- the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them.
The goal, therefore, is to increase influence through identifying and relating with people. Influence then becomes an important factor to success in any situation. In the context of business and leadership, Harvard Business Review stated:
The number one criterion for advancement and promotion for professionals is the ability to communicate effectively.
Although the term “communication” is used in the quotation, “communicating effectively” means bringing your message across successfully and increasing your influence to your stakeholders.
2. Connecting is all about others.
My communication professors thought me that communication is a dance of two–the failure of a party means the failure of both parties. However, when we talk about connecting, everything is all about the the one(s) we communicate or try to connect to. This notion is supported by Nabi Saleh of Gloria Jean’s:
We aren’t in the coffee business serving people; we’re in the people business serving coffee.
Maxwell presented a variety of ways on how to do it including the need and want to listen. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People stated this as Habit 5: Seek first to understand then to be understood. Moreover, Maxwell said that listening is not enough–you need to be sincere when doing it as well as when communicating with other people. He argued that sincerity cannot be faked. If you fake it, it shows. Les Geblin, former National Salesman of the Year supported this claim:
You can’t make the other fellow important in your presence if you secretly feel that he is a nobody.
3. Connecting goes beyond words.
Maxwell said that there are three things people look for when we try to connect with them: Thought (something we know), Emotion (something we feel) and Action (something we do). These concepts are actually stated by Aristotle on On Rhetoric as Logos (Thought), Pathos (Emotion) and Ethos (Action). These Pillars of Public Speaking are also the pillars of Connecting. You can see the speech plan I made during my second year as a university student here.
4. Connecting always requires energy.
I remember watching an episode of Ghost Lab on Discovery Channel. The Ghost Hunters want to attract a ghost in a cocktail bar so they invited poetry readers. According to those hunters, poetry readers give out energy and supernatural entities are attracted to it. And yes, the same is true with connecting. Maxwell gave different ways on how to be energetic and how to give out energy. The one thing that made be interested is about humanizing your attempts at connecting–talking about personal failures:
If you want people to be impressed, you can talk about your successes, but if you want people to identify with you, it’s better to talk about failures.
5, Connecting is more skill than natural talent.
Maxwell argued that even introverts can connect effectively with other people though they would use more energy than how much extroverts consume. This theory supports his claim that connecting is more skill than natural talent. In order to sharpen this skill, Maxwell suggested to build on the following: Relationships (who you know), Insights (what you know), Successes (what you have done) and Abilities (what you can do).
6. Connectors connect on common ground.
One communication theory argued that in order a communication activity to take place, there must be shared experiences or common knowledge. Of course, that remained a theory because we can communicate with anyone. However, a common ground can be built with anyone and is important for connectors.Moreover, Maxwell asserted that common ground is also a place where people can discuss differences. The concept of “common ground” is presented nicely by Epipheo Studios’ “How the Internet is Changing Advertising.” It is “a short history of communication and how the internet is a new medium that has thrown out the old rules of communication.”
7. Connectors do the difficult work of keeping it simple.
One of my college professors differentiated simple from bare. Simplicity can engage because it has something–it has content amidst simplicity. Bare, on the other hand, looks simple by not having anything. Even Albert Einstein who contributed crazily complex scientific knowledge strives for simplicity by saying:
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it enough.
I try to explain complex ideas by telling analogies. This kind of technique is something I learned from being a varsity debater back in college. Through this, people can relate with what I say (with the analogous concept) even if they didn’t know or experience the complex concept I want to talk about. Even people who are not bottom-line thinkers want to know the bottom-line, Maxwell said.
In the end, people are persuaded not by what we say but what they understand.
8. Connectors create an experience everyone enjoys.
When I was debating for our university’s debate varsity, we often talk about “bad adjudicators”–no matter how good you are at debating, you will still emerge as a loser when you have a bad judge in your room. One of my seniors, Lee Yarcia, told us that our mindset should be this: “Even if the adjudicator is a bad one, you still need to emerge as the winning side.” Maxwell supports this mindset when he said that, in general, there are not bad audiences, only bad speakers. He said that we should take responsibility for our listeners. There are a variety of ways on how to do this like using humor, creating a sense of anticipation, creating common ground, interacting with the listeners and telling stories. The latter technique, telling stories, is supported by Jesus Christ (yes, Jesus Christ) when he said in the Gospel of Matthew:
If there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness and to nudge people toward receptive insight.
9. Connectors inspire people.
Inspiring people can be done by having conviction, confidence, gratitude and passion. According to Maxwell, vision alone does not inspire change. It must be strengthened by passion. Moreover, he said that Action is the highest form of Inspiration. In order to put people into action, a connector must provide them with an action plan so they know what to do.
10. Connectors live what they communicate.
According to Maxwell, the first six months performance of a newly hired professional is dependent on his or her communication ability. In this period, communication ability overrides credibility. However, after six months, credibility will override communication ability. So, in order to gain credibility, professionals need to connect or to communicate effectively. Moreover, Maxwell argued that the relationships we have with others are largely determined by the relationships we have with ourselves. This kind of claim is supported by the Private Victory Habits of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Connecting with other people is a long-term endeavor. Maxwell said that “the true power of connecting with others does not come from the superficial interactions with others. It comes from connection with people long term.” Now I fully understand why my boss wants to jumpstart my connection with others. Not only with the other bosses but also with the people I handle–my sales agents. I remember him telling me that connecting with them can mean buckets of beer but if that’s the only way or if that’s the most effective way to connect with them then I should do it. He said that to me while we drink his favorite Scotch Whisky. Yes, I understood. And he was able to connect to me.