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With a Little Help from Your Friends: How to Tap into the Hidden Potential of the People Who Surround You Every Day

With a Little Help from Your Friends: How to Tap into the Hidden Potential of the People Who Surround You Every Day

With a Little Help from Your Friends

    Do you have a dream? Is there a business that you’re dying to launch, a story in your head demanding to be told, or an idea you’re frantic to see made a reality?

    If you’re like most people, the answer is “yes.” Or, more likely, “yes, but…” Just about everyone has a crazy dream they’d love to pursue – but they just don’t know how.

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    What you need is a little expert advice, someone with brains and know-how to explain what you need to do and, more importantly, how to do it. The TV line-up is chock-full of shows that promise just that – a worthy but for whatever reason incapable person is selected, a team of experts descends on their life, and bit by bit they’re shown how to make their dreams come true. Trading Spaces, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Big Idea, American Idol, and dozens of other shows are based on some variation of this theme.

    But you don’t have to wait for your friends and loved ones to conspire to remake you, in order to tap into a wealth of expert advice. Chances are, you’re already surrounded by people who can give you the knowledge you need to get moving towards your dreams. You can be forgiven for not recognizing it; chances are, they don’t realize it themselves.

    Here’s the thing: everyone develops a body of unique skills and talents in the course of living, almost all of which can be applied more widely than we imagine. It can often take a creative eye to see these hidden potentials for what they are: a lifetime of expertise masquerading as everyday life.

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    Who are these unwitting experts I’m talking about? Your friends, family, and colleagues, of course. How many people do you know who excel at something so much that it’s become a defining part of their character? Instead of just admiring them for it, why not pay them the greater compliment of learning from them, of letting them set an example for you in the pursuit of your dreams?

    What kind of understanding might you find hidden in the strengths of your friends and loved ones? Consider:

    • The natural storyteller: how to weave compelling, “sticky” narratives; how to grab and hold onto people’s attention; how to set people at east.
    • The slacker: how to relax; how to roll with the punches; how to accept criticism without letting it define you.
    • The social butterfly: how to connect with strangers; how to present yourself professionally; how to avoid being defined by your weaknesses; how to listen.
    • The entrepreneur: how to face adversity; how to understand financial data; how to plan for the unknown.
    • The organizer: how to rally people to your cause; how to balance contradictory demands; how to stay cool under pressure.

    These are just a few examples of different types of people that almost everyone knows. Look around you at the people closest to you and try to identify their hidden strengths. Don’t dismiss people’s talents just because their accomplishments are small – even the simplest achievement might be the outcome of an encyclopedic knowledge of the task.

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    For example, maybe you know someone who runs the church bake sale every year. Maybe it’s a parent, or someone on your block, or a friend. Think about what they do every year: they plan the bake sale, they promote it by making announcements at services and posting signs, they round up the best bakers in the congregation and persuade them to contribute their time and money in baking goods for the sale, and they encourage everyone involved to put in their best effort in the service of a goal bigger than their own personal gains. Now, doesn’t that sound like someone who might have a thing or two to teach you in the pursuit of your dreams?

    Pay attention to the people around you and see what you can learn from them. Better yet, tell them what you see as their strengths and ask them a simple question: “How do you do it?”

    You might be surprised what you learn. And, just as important, they might be surprised at what you learn. You won’t be just milking them for whatever they’re worth to you – you’ll be opening their eyes, maybe for the first time, to their own hidden talents.

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    And what could be a better gift than that?

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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