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Want to Make Yourself a Gazillion Times More Interesting — and Successful?

Want to Make Yourself a Gazillion Times More Interesting — and Successful?

Something amazing happened in American politics in 1992. A young man, nearly unknown on the national political scene, beat out the entire establishment to become president. One reason voters rallied behind the unproven Bill Clinton: he seemed cool. Commenting on candidate Clinton’s saxophone performance on The Arsenio Hall Show just before the election, comedian Dennis Miller made a brilliant observation: “I think the American people found it refreshing that we finally had a politician who could f#@*ing do something.”

Miller was joking. But he was onto something.

What do you think of when I say “politician?” Let me guess: someone older, probably a man, probably a lawyer, wearing a suit and tie, speaking a string of clichés most likely in a monotone voice. Am I close?

Most politicians don’t do anything besides politics. They make speeches. They campaign. They look the same, sound the same and walk the same. Before running for this office, they held that office. They’re one-dimensional. But not Bill Clinton. That guy plays the sax!

Most of us spend most of our time devoted largely to one pursuit—our career, our business, our art. And that’s great. But what about all of the interests we don’t pursue—adventurous hobbies, intellectual endeavors—because they have little or nothing to do with our primary focus in life? Would these pursuits distract us from our big goals? Or might they actually enhance them?

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Bill Clinton made himself a gazillion times more interesting—and successful—than most politicians in part because showed us he had pursuits outside of politics, pursuits that gave him a fresh perspective, a different way to look at things from the typical political lifer. It worked for Clinton, and it can work for you.

Here are three huge benefits of adding new pursuits to your life.

1. Broadening your interests makes you more interesting.

Have you ever had the experience of working with someone for a while—say, a sales rep at your company—and then later learning about a whole new side to that person? A whole other life they’re living? It makes the person much more interesting, doesn’t it?

Maybe you find out your sales rep is a former state tennis champion, or that he writes songs or studies astronomy in his spare time. The details don’t matter. What matters is, you used to see the rep as a one-dimensional figure. But now he’s a full-fledged person, three-dimensional, interesting.

2. Broadening your interests can make you more successful.

For a while I worked as a writer (first full-time, then as a remote freelancer) for a wonderful software training company called lynda.com. This is one of the most successful startup businesses I’ve ever seen. And I can’t say for sure that hiring well-rounded talent had any direct effect on the company’s success (or even that they were aware they were doing it), but consider these facts about lynda.com when I was working there:

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  • One of the co-founders was also a Hollywood animator, author and teacher. She wasn’t just an entrepreneur.
  • Their CFO held a PhD in Astrophysics. Oh, and she was also the CTO!
  • One of the company’s product managers was a highly accomplished marine biologist.
  • The president was a former professional musician.

And the company’s head of design was also an underwater photographer who traveled the world on diving expeditions, taking photos of real shipwrecks on the ocean floor.

These guys were living the well-rounded-life philosophy. When I was there, just about every employee was able to draw on some unique perspective, some rich experience that I’m sure made them more effective at their jobs than if they did nothing but work and watch TV.

3. Broadening your interests also gives you new insights, new ideas—and opens you up to new opportunities

A good friend of mine, Ben Cardinale, has enjoyed a successful career writing television in Hollywood. He wrote for Family Ties, The Single Guy, Champs and other shows, and he was a story editor on the critics’ favorite Brooklyn Bridge. He’s also sold scripts to DreamWorks and other elite Hollywood players. Ben has succeeded in Hollywood because he’s a damn great writer. His humor and observations relating to family and relationships are spot-on perfect. But why? What’s Ben’s secret?

It should be obvious by now: Ben isn’t only a writer.

Before Hollywood, Ben had a successful accounting practice, specializing in general contractors. Then Ben began to sense that the construction businesses he represented were doing the “real” work, while he was just accounting for it. So he jumped out from behind his desk and started his own construction firm. That’s two—count ‘em, two— careers under his belt before Ben became a writer. That’s a three-dimensional guy.

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Today’s typical wannabe screenwriter most likely graduated from an Ivy League school, where he probably wrote a satire column for the school’s paper, and it was probably pretty funny. He almost certainly hung out in an isolated little clique of other smart, over-achieving writers. All his friends had the same take on life. All had the same experiences and made the same observations. Then they all headed to Hollywood or New York to become writers.

That’s why so many sitcoms look and sound the same. These writers aren’t out there living life; they’re mastering the technique of sitcom writing.

Meanwhile, my friend Ben spent the first part of his professional life working the other side of his brain, crunching numbers as an accountant, gaining all sorts of different experiences from those of the typical would-be writer. After that, Ben built houses. The guy built freakin’ houses!

In other words, Ben lived life. And those experiences meant that when he came to Hollywood, Ben brought with him an authentic eye and ear for human nature. Most writers bring only smug sarcasm and a master’s degree in joke-telling mechanics.

Leonardo da Vinci might be the greatest artist in history. But he was also a great mathematician, who studied human faces obsessively—cataloging the distances between mouth and nose, eyes and chin. He was also a botanist. A geologist. An engineer. Think any of those intellectual pursuits gave him a fresh artistic perspective that helped make his paintings more beautiful and profound?

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Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Cardinale and my former colleagues at lynda.com all found that the more pursuits they added to their lives, the richer they were able to make each pursuit—and the richer life itself became.

I’ll sum up my advice with a quote from the great columnist (and singer… and radio talk-show host…) Mark Steyn. He’s speaking here to journalists, authors and bloggers, but his sentiment could be applied to any endeavor:

“Don’t just write there. Do something!”

Featured photo credit: Dynamic Movement, Free Runners, Waterloo Bridge/Andrew Moreton via flickr.com

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

Reference

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