Have you ever been to an event with thousands in the room and felt like the person on stage was talking directly to you? Just a few days ago I found myself sitting in an audience taking pages of notes and tearing up because the speaker moved me so much.
But when the next speaker came out, something was off. He was sharp; he was attractive; he seemed to know the material. But there was something unlikeable about him, and the audience wasn’t with him.
As a speaker myself, I knew losing the audience was the worst thing that could happen to me. I sincerely don’t think I was coming from a place of judgment, but more from a place of curiosity.
My heart hurt for the speaker as I knew he had invested hours in preparation for the talk, and yet, the end result wasn’t landing. Something was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
When I asked my husband what he thought, he said, “He’s timid.”
At first, that didn’t make sense. He was speaking directly, and with confidence. Maybe too much confidence, though. My husband clarified, “He’s trying to be something. He won’t let the audience in, and we can feel it.”
In a breakout session later that day, someone made this powerful statement: Fear, ego, and insecurity can easily mask one another. While I know this to be true – and I’ve even taught on this before – it wasn’t until this moment that I realized what an impact on our ability to communicate.
Whether we are standing on a stage, communicating in a boardroom or with our team, or simply connecting with our friends and family, we create distance between ourselves and others when we put up walls. But if we are willing to work at it, we can close the chasm.
3 Ways to Narrow the Gap Between You and Others
1. GET YOU OFF YOUR MIND.
In his new book, The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication, Dr. John Maxwell describes the Law of Connecting: “Communicators know it’s all about others.”
Aggressive, tenacious, dominant, decisive, strong-willed… in my days as an athlete, this is how others complimented me. The tougher and more aggressive I behaved, the better results I achieved. It was two decades later that I learned only 3% of the population respond well to this kind of communication. The other 97% shut down, slow down, or pull away altogether. How can I influence others when my tendencies alienate them?
“The person of the highest awareness level has the responsibility in the relationship. The person of the lower awareness level has control.”
I heard this quote about 10 years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. It’s not easy to live with, but it’s powerful.
I like to understand myself – I like to expand my awareness of myself, how I like to communicate, and how I like to be communicated with by others. But the more I learn about myself, the more it becomes my responsibility to speak the language of others to show them that I value them.
If I’m speaking with someone who processes more slowly than I do, I must pause and allow them to go at their own pace.
If I’m speaking with someone who is high-energy and uses a lot of words, it is my responsibility to speak less and listen more so that they feel heard.
If I am speaking with someone who loves the details and tells in-depth stories, I give them my attention, hear them out, and honor their style of communication.
If I know my communication style and I value others – and I do – then I have the responsibility to utilize my emotional intelligence and lean into their language, and that is 100% okay.
Steven Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
If we truly want to close the gap between ourselves and others, getting ourselves off our minds is a great first step.
2. SHOW VULNERABILITY.
The first time I attended the International Maxwell Conference back in 2012, I had to prepare a 5-minute speech to deliver to the others seated at my table. I had adapted a Joshua Chamberlain speech I had heard Andy Andrews give at a conference a few years back. I practiced it for hours, maybe even dozens of hours. When I arrived, I knew it like the back of my hand.
When I told a friend of mine what I was going to share, she asked, “Bridgett, you have an incredible story, why don’t you share from your own life?”
I said, “Are you kidding me? I don’t think I can tell my story without getting choked up. There will be business professionals and men in this room – I’m not doing that!”
When the time came to give our talks, one of my table mates told a story of overcoming domestic violence. Another shared how he had been kicked out of high school and how a mentor in the military had believed in him. All around the table they went telling touching, real-life stories that connected the whole group. It was a powerful moment I felt I had missed out on.
Like the speaker I had questioned, I was missing something.
I looked professional; I was dressed nicely; and I knew my content. But I was keeping them at a distance. If I had shown vulnerability instead, I would have closed that gap.
3. USE STORIES VERSUS TEACHING.
Maxwell Leadership mentor Roddy Galbraith always says, “People love to learn, but they hate to be taught.” This was one of the hardest lessons for me to understand in my early years of speaking.
If I learned or heard something that gave me great insight, I wanted to go and teach it to the world. But the circumstances in my life, the environment I was in, and the incredible story that surrounded the “ah-ha” were all what gave me the insight. I wanted to come tell it to you straight, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful.
As people, we love stories. Whether we are 5 years old or 55 years old, we lean in, we stop mind wandering, and we remember the stories long after we forget facts.
When I combine the power of personal stories with vulnerability and thinking of others, I can close the chasm between myself and any audience. I hope this helps as you impact and influence the world around you.
About Bridgett Krause
Bridgett Krause is an international trainer, executive coach, and faculty member with Maxwell Leadership, as well as serving on the executive committee in the President’s Advisory Council. She is the founder and CEO of the Dream Big Facility and is married to her best friend and business partner, Ryan Krause. Her greatest passion is helping individuals find their purpose and empowering them to walk out a life of fulfillment.
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