Do you remember people because they’re interesting, or because they took an interest in you?
Gratitude gives you stories to tell and questions to ask. The best way to utilize gratitude in a social setting, and even become known for it, is to go out and lead with gratitude, right when you meet someone. For instance, instead of walking around an event and talking about surface-level conversations, engage with people around gratitude.
We’ve all been to events where we’ve been tasked with meeting new people. Think about those conversations. They are likely filled with “How’s the weather?” or “What do you do for a living?” or “How did you like the coffee at the buffet?” You can ask these simple questions and talk about nothing for an endless amount of time.
But what does this actually achieve? Nothing. To others, you’re just a business card from a conference where they randomly heard Sheryl Crow sing at the after-party (by the way, she’s still rocking).
But imagine if you did something different. Imagine that when you meet some new people, you give them a life-changing experience. You give them the gift of your full attention, your great questions and a radically safe space. For the average conference attendee, or person you meet on the street who is lonely, disconnected or unfulfilled, your presence might just save their life.
A big part of my relationship with gratitude started around a simple question I ask anybody who will listen: If you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life, that you don’t give enough credit or thanks to, who would that be?
We’ve used this gratitude question to spark over relationships in the last six years, posing this question to Fortune 50 CEOs, Super Bowl Champions, Grammy Award Winners, Hall of Fame Athletes and more. But also I use the gratitude question when I meet people at a wide variety of business and social events where I don’t yet know many of the attendees. It’s perfect for deflecting the spotlight from myself at conferences and turning a group of strangers into friends. It’s also the question I use at weddings when I want to get to know family members of my friends. I’d like to share an experience illustrating how leading with gratitude can open doors.
I and a few New York friends had flown out to Seattle for the wedding of a good buddy of mine. I had yet to meet any of the bride’s family, so during the reception, when the family came by our table, I decided to ask them our gratitude question, and when I did, they each leaned in and shared meaningful stories. The bride’s mother then took me over to a cousin’s table (none of whom I had met) and made an introduction, then said I should ask this group the question. Similar effect, all of them had a meaningful story to tell, some of them cried, and I simply walked away and the night went on.
Eventually, the bride’s father walks over to me, bringing a gentleman with him, and asks me to ask his friend the question — Bill Gates. We sat down for a great deal of time talking intimately about their answers to our gratitude question. Gates spoke about the wisdom of Warren Buffett, like an older brother figure he’d looked up to. Afterward, I kept thinking about that gratitude question. If it could get me a sit-down conversation with Bill Gates, what else could it do?
You don’t have to actually say much about yourself when you go out to events. You can create a safe space by asking meaningful questions about others, and word about you will spread. Not only will you have cultivated opportunities for connection and vulnerability, but you will have also made yourself interesting, by being interested in others.
To go deeper in a conversation, practice what former FBI lead hostage negotiator Chris Voss calls labeling. If it appears that someone is having an emotional reaction to a conversation, go ahead and label it. It could help that person feel like they are heard, leading them to enter deeper into the conversation.
For instance, if you are in a conversation with a teammate and you ask them how their project is going, they might answer, “It’s going really well. I’m just proofreading the final slides for the presentation.” Instead of saying, “Good job,” you could label their experience by saying a variation of: it sounds like, it seems like or it looks like. In this example, you could say, “It sounds like you’re really paying attention to the details.” They’ll likely reply instinctively with the context of why the details are so important to them, feeling validated that someone appreciates that they are taking extra time to focus on details.
Regardless of the techniques you use, it is important to practice active listening skills. Focus on a ratio of listening more than talking. Don’t immediately think of what your response will be or how you can turn the conversation back around onto you. Just listen, process and focus on what next open-ended question you can ask to further the conversation.
This amount of focused listening will create a safe space and type of connection that could make them remember you forever. Bringing this type of social-emotional connection into your business is good for business, since it helps create a stronger bond with your customers who, in turn, are more likely to buy from your brand.
At an event, my favorite thing is for someone to come up to me halfway through and say they heard I asked some deep questions to their friends, and if I could ask them too. We have the immense opportunity to offer people the gift of open conversation in a safe space. Leading with gratitude not only fosters deep connection and stellar conversation, but it might just open a door or two.