After a priest moved to a new parish he approached his superior to ask, “Would you mind if I smoked while praying?” and was, not surprisingly, turned down. Even if you, too, are an ardent non-smoker, it is wise to learn how to ask in a way that enables others to agree. For example, the priest might have said, “Would you mind if I pray while I am smoking?”
Setting the context with your initial comments is akin to dressing in the fashion that the people you are going to be around will approve or even admire, while still being true to yourself. Why? Because people like people who are like them.
Like all other animals, we are most comfortable with those who act and look right – like us. In fact, the more you look familiar to me, the earlier in the conversation I will literally hear your words, absorb their meaning and be more able to accept them, and you. That’s the inevitable Similarity Bias which we can use to our mutual benefit to connect with diverse others who could become unexpected allies.
The more you look and act different than me, the more my peripheral vision narrows initially. Further my skin temperature will go down and my heart beat up in anticipation of the possible need for flight. That is because the primitive triune part of our brains has not changed. We are forever hardwired to respond to new, unfamiliar situations with the “fight or flight” syndrome.
Our vital signs literally shut down when we are first around a person, setting or situation that is radically different, unfamiliar thus initially potentially dangerous, until we have decided how we feel about our situation.
You can pull people closer, and bring out their better side so they can see and appreciate yours. In fact, this is probably the most meaningful gift you can give someone else, other than the present of your warm presence.
- Praise someone directly. Whatever you praise you want to flourish. The more specific your words, the more memorable your message. Describe the actual act in rich detail so you honor the person by vividly acknowledging exactly how the behavior affected you. That vividness will make the act more contagious in the person you praised and in others who hear about, thus also creating the halo effect on you.
- Even more powerfully, compliment the person to one or more people who are very important to them. My client, Punjabi, the CEO of Berlin-based firm had a successful third year of operation where employees pulled together and often worked long hours
Instead of handing out the team leader awards in the traditional way, at a company event, the CEO took the time to find a significant group related to each of the winners. For those winners the groups included a place of worship, a rugby club, a college alumnae organization and an antique car association.
With the permission of these organizations, the CEO arranged to give the award and an eight-minute speech, at one of their events, describing both the winner’s accomplishments and a specific incident where the winner exemplified the heroic character of a true team player. Thus each (surprised) winner got to bask in the spotlight in front of people they valued in another part of their lives.
The CEO’s unexpected and touching gesture attracted attention and respect in many new places. Although it did not appear that any of the people who saw their friends receive the award were immediate, potential customers, they were sufficiently inspired to stir some positive word-of-mouth buzz about the unusual awards ceremonies.
A month after these ceremonies a feature writer for the equivalent of the “lifestyle” section of the main Berlin paper heard the story through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who was a rugby player with her husband. Not one to be interested in business stories, she was nevertheless touched by the way the ceremonies had rippled out to surround the winners’ lives.
She tracked down the CEO and interviewed him, thus affording him another chance to speak glowingly about specific examples of his winners’ dedication and ingenuity. As he praised each person, the glow of the values he admired reflected back on him and his company. The reporter also interviewed the winners and several of the people at the organizations where the awards events occurred, and then wrote a human interest story that appeared, with photos, in a Sunday edition.
The article generated several glowing letters to the editor by people who witnessed the ceremonies, the winners and others who were also moved by the story. Mr. John Sunui, vice president of sales for Singapore-based construction management company happened to read some of the letters in the paper while eating his breakfast in a hotel while in Berlin on business.
Sunui emailed the reporter to request a copy of the original article that the reporter emailed back the next day and he received when he returned to Singapore.
That December holiday in Singapore — and in 14 other countries where Sunui’s company has offices, both the office director and one person in each office who has done an outstanding job at their work, as voted by their co-workers, will be happily surprised when they walk in the door at some place that is special to them to be greeted by a company representative who will give them a present and tell a story about another side of the winner that their friends in that organization may not know about.
How can you give a lasting and perhaps the most widely known gift that ten people you admire can receive? For each person think of the specific incident where that person has exemplified the quality that you most admire or cherish. Re-play the situation in your mind so you can describe it in all its story-building, touching detail.
Practice saying the story, then notice how you now feel about the person. Begin with the specific details before you end with the general statement that summarizes your admiration. That way, you make the story, and the person, more vividly memorable to others who read or hear it.
Next step: for each person envision what group to which they are affiliated (family, religious organization, hobby or other interest or professional group, etc.) would be most significant for that person if you were to praise them among the members. You have several ways to pass along your praise about the person you love or admire.
Call, email or write to someone in that person’s valued affinity group and share your story of praise. Or you may, like the people in the story above, ask for permission to confer a gift on the person at a gathering of their group. In advertising this method is called a “third party endorsement.”
For example, when customers praise a product in an advertisement they are providing a credible third party endorsement. Because we are all instinctive voyeurs, naturally interested in the stories of each other’s lives we are more drawn to third party endorsements than to advertisements. Further, when we hear a positive story about someone, told by another person we find it more credible and compelling than if the person was to “boast” about it in telling it himself.
Here are other ways to offer heartfelt, long-lasting third party endorsement gifts to those you hold dear:
- Donate money or another gift to a charity or cause in which that person is active, and ask that your story about them be included in any acknowledgement of the gift.
- Seek out places that person frequent and see if you might buy a needed piece of equipment or repair in that person’s name. In our Sausalito church, for example, you can pay for a hymnal and dedicate it with a related phrase, to someone you love. So every Sunday, someone at my church opens up a hymnal with this hand calligraphic message on the inside front, dedicated to my mother who loves piano music, “To Lestelle whose piano playing washes away the dust of everyday life.”
- On an object that person might uses frequently (coffee mug, bath towel, key holder) imprint or monogram a positive nickname or one phrase characterization of the “hero’s” action.
- To my English rugby-playing friend, Richard, we’re giving a glass beer stein with these words etched on the bottom, “Great giver of bone-crushing hugs.”
- Make a large, colorful postcard on which you write a description of the positive incident involving your hero, then ask your colleagues who agree to join in signing it before sending it to that person’s home. Give a gift to the person’s partner in work or personal life, as an acknowledgement of your admiration.
- Make a banner or poster, with a celebratory sentence and an enlarged and flattering image of the hero and hang it in a prominent place (wall or door of the person’s office, home or event). Find a place the person frequents (dry cleaner, golf club) and offer the business manager at that site your credit card number with a set dollar limit. Ask the manager to pay the next bill of your hero, fax you a copy of the bill, and hand the manager a gift card with your inscription on it to be given to the hero at their next visit. (You’ll create your own variation of this method, I’ll bet.)
- Two years ago I learned that Janice, a skilled meeting planner who had hired me to speak at her association several times over the years, and who was exceptionally gracious and generous with me, had contracted leukemia. I learned this from her assistant who called to confirm some details regarding my next presentation at their annual meeting.
- On a long plane flight back from another speaking engagement, I looked out the window, thinking of Janice, and conjured up this idea for a third party endorsement of the Hawaiian-born meeting planner which would reflect one of her most passionate interests, gardening. I called the association’s executive director to share my idea and he immediately agreed.
- Two months later, just after I was introduced to speak at that association’s convention’s opening breakfast, I moved to the center of the raised stage, signaling the 500 attendees to also rise from their seats as the board president caught the elbow of our surprised meeting planner, Jana, who at the bottom of the stage steps, still focused on making sure the room lighting would be alright for my speech.
He guided her up the steps as I stepped back to the side of the stage and the first person in the audience, roving mike in his hand told a vignette of how Jana had guided him at the beginning of his career.
As Jana reached the center of the stage, in front of the people she had served for 14 years, eight other people in various parts of the room lifted their mike and told their brief story about her.
Then a tenor saxophone player stepped out from the side of the stage to serenade Janice with a fragment of her favorite Kenny G song as the screen on the stage was filled with purple words on an emerald green (her favorite colors) background, and the title, “Jana is a special flower,” followed by a swift changing set of images of Janice in several situations.
As the song ended, on cue, all 500 people pulled from out of their pockets and purses the fragrant Hawaiian-grown white flowers, the gardenias, tuber roses and Pikaki and held them aloft towards Jana. The board president handed Jana a bouquet of the flowers and asked Jana to speak, which she did, briefly, through her tears.
Even several of the hotel waiters were standing still, crying by then. My speech had, of course, been moved to the luncheon so people could drop by Jana’s table to say their warm greetings throughout the ensuing breakfast. This is a memory I will never forget. What situation can you co-create to honor someone who made your life better?
Perhaps it, too, can spur others to share their relevant stories, as StoryCorps founder and TED prize 2015 winner, Dave Isay has long advocated. As he said, when accepting the prize, “Everyone around you has a story the world needs to hear.”