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3-E Skills for the Future Part 2: Entertain!

Welcome to Part 2 of our 3-part "3-E Skills for the Future" series. You've already read about (and hopefully digested) the first "E," Empathy. I promised one more way to increase empathy (other than your attitude of putting yourself in others' position and using empathetic gestures), so here you go:

It's a way to work on your own mind – a self brain-washing, visualization empathy exercise. It can be a regular practice and you can do it right before any meeting. Just close your eyes and for a moment, imagine someone you feel close to...someone who you enjoy meeting every time you see them….the person could be dead or alive…. For me it’s often my long-passed-on Grandpa Hy. Once you have that person in mind, say to them, mentally, “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be at peace.” Take 2 minutes, repeating these phrases or something like them. Now open your eyes. Try it now. Afterwards, note how you feel. Any change at all from 2 minutes ago?

This is part of the classic "metta," or "loving kindness" or "friendliness" meditation practiced by Buddhists over millennia. It's now becoming popular in secular meditation circles and I can see why. Every time I've practiced this particular exercise I've noticed a positive difference the outcome of meetings.

The Second "E"

The second "E is related to Empathy: Entertain! “Andrew, my clients don’t need bells and whistles, they want correct transfer pricing!” …or tax consultation, or whatever professional service you’re offering. YES, and…you want to keep those clients' interest, which is the meaning of the word “entertainment.” If you’re a bore, they’ll be sore. If they’re confused, you’re going to lose.

How many meetings have you attended where you would rather be somewhere—anywhere—else? How many teleconferences are you “on” but really “off” or even “out”? If the meeting or conference were “entertaining,” you would be all in and so would everyone else. No fan walks out with a minute left of a tie ball game. Why? Because they are interested in the outcome; they are being entertained.

What can you do to “entertain” – to “keep your counterparts’ interest? I’m not talking about wining and dining—though that may (or may not) be part of your professional entertainment. It’s about tuning into their radio station WIIFM:

"What’s In It For Me." What do your counterparts want to know? What do they need to know? How can you make sure you are not boring or confusing them?

In my experience working with professionals from all kinds of industries, the challenges faced by those in the “knowledge” business is that too many like to appear “smart.” In fact, a new book by Ken Simlar and Robin Hanson called The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, posits that most of what we do in life is meant just to signal to others that we’re smart—including the reason we read the news. We read not to keep up with daily events but to show others how smart we are. We use jargon, SAT vocabulary words, and lots of background details in our presentations and meetings. But your customer or colleague isn’t thinking, “Oh, that guy/gal really knows their stuff.” At least not most of the time. Instead, they’re thinking, “What are they talking about?” Since they don’t want to appear dumb, they let it go. But mark my words: They’re not in sync with you if you’re bamboozling them.

As professionals, and “specialists,” you want to be extra careful to avoid the “Curse of Knowledge.” Are you familiar with this? Made famous by Dan and Chip Heath in their book Made to Stick. Put simply, the curse is that once we have learned something, it’s very difficult to remember what it was like not to know what we’ve learned. Almost like un-ringing a bell.

So the second “E” is for "Entertain." It’s “E”sier than you think. Don’t try to entertain like a comedian (unless you’re really good, and most of us aren’t); rather, just find out what your counterparts are interested in….and remember they are always interested in themselves and their business. Use simple words and stories. Be direct. Most of all, be interested in whomever your talking to. If you’ve done the empathy exercise, you will already be in that state of mind.

See the ease with which the E’s overlap? We're 2/3 of the way through the 3 E's; next time we will introduce the last, and most important E of all: Energy.

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