There comes a point in time when self-learning reaches a point of critical mass. The lessons you get from your own experiences plummet and even slow your growth. You must learn from the experiences and the thoughts of other people. And that only happens when you know how to make someone feel safe.
Learning from others, whether mentors, heroes, or colleagues, is one of the secrets to knowing anything fast. Picture this: someone who spent 10, 20, 30 years learning something gives you pointers of things to focus on and avoid. You can consume their rich wisdom, experiences, and stories by reading their book, having a conversation, or asking questions.
Now, the skill of making people feel secure, listened to, and understood is learnable. You can practice the micro-skills and develop the traits needed to make others feel comfortable. And the benefit is like having the Midas touch: rich conversations, golden nuggets of wisdom, and deeper relationships.
Openness isn’t just about authenticity, it’s far more than that. And the catch is, you can’t offer real openness to others unless you experience it from yourself. For example, whenever I get promoted within a company, I always feel like I had to resign because “I met my goals.” I always thought that I wanted to do something else, that I shouldn’t stay in one job for more than a year.
It happened a couple of times since I was running away from the lesson I was supposed to learn. No matter how good a company was, whenever I got promoted, I’d quit. The reason isn’t because I’m bored or I got my dreams. It was because I was afraid of “being found out.” I was afraid of being an impostor.
But once I became open and honest with myself, I started to learn how to manage that fear. I found people who experience the same thing and through them, I get to understand myself better. We have rich conversations about it and they share with me some pieces of wisdom they picked up along the way.
Until you become honest with yourself, you’ll continue to justify your thoughts and emotions with logic. You’ll continue to think of reasons, excuses, and evidence without facing the fact of the matter.
Here are some ideas on how to butter yourself up for personal openness.
Beware Of Your Self-Talk
You are always in a conversation with yourself. Yet sometimes, you are too harsh, too negative, too intellectually toxic with your self-talk. You use languages that you wouldn’t even say to others, especially a friend. Until you treat yourself with kindness and see yourself with compassion, you’ll always feel bad about yourself.
A quick way to stop this is to have a self-talk in third person. Meaning, instead of using “I” or “me” when you talk to yourself, call yourself by your First Name. Psychology Today says that it can help you stay calm, cool, and collected. In short, it will help you think better, have a realistic grasp of any situation, and stop your self-defeating habits.
Tell Yourself The Truth
I’m not saying that you lie to yourself. I’m implying that sometimes, you stack reasons and logic over what’s really happening. Just like I did when in reality, I was afraid of “being found out.” Whenever you feel sad, stressed, or frustrated, ask yourself why and get to the deeper reason.
This allows you to have practical empathy (more on this later). You would get more out of your experiences and problems and develop maturity which you can share later on. Quick, remember these:
- What are your biggest frustrations in life right now?
- How do you feel on a regular basis?
- What experiences in the past are you running away from or not processing properly?
- Which things hurt you the most?
- What gets you angry?
These are some hard questions to reflect on and even answer. But unless you tell yourself the truth, you won’t know yourself better. It’s important because it gives you an insight on the experiences of other people. Remember, others experience life the way you do. They’re not some character in your story, they’re the “heroes” in their own arc.
Be Open To New Ideas And Experiences
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.Aristotle
Openness to other people means you leave spaces in your mind for new ideas – especially points of view different from your own. You don’t have to accept their ideas, but you can listen to and learn from them.
Besides learning from others, gathering new ideas can help poke holes to ideas you already have. You’ll see gaps, things you missed out, and missing pieces of information that can make your opinions stronger and better.
Having said that, when you make people feel safe, they’re more open to share their experiences with you. Whatever job, or work, or business you do in life, it’s always helpful to collect stories and experiences from other people. It allows you to understand the world – their world – a little bit better.
Have Practical Empathy
There’s been a long debate on the difference between empathy and sympathy. But whether you think it’s about feeling the pain of others or walking in their shoes, it doesn’t matter. Understanding the feelings of others isn’t the end-all-be-all solution nor the main goal of our interaction. The main goal is growth.
This is where Practical Empathy comes into play. We use our understanding of others to help them grow, move forward, and become better. Understanding is the first point. Forward movement is the second.
Growth doesn’t come in a snap of a finger. You can’t force your “advice” or “words of wisdom” to other people and shove it down their throats. First of all, that’s a crime. Second, that’s toxic positivity. And third, people resist what we insist. Unless we make them feel safe, listened to, and understood, any attempt for healing or forward movement is useless.
Go back to a moment when you unload your burden on someone and they are willing to listen. The moment when they were willing to help you get out of the dark tunnel in your life. Did you feel understood? More importantly, did it help ease your burden? When we practice (or experience) practical empathy, it feels as if there’s someone who’s carrying our load with us.
This is true for others as it’s true for you. People need to feel understood before they can heal. They need to accept what happened, learn a lesson, or look for a purpose. These are things you and I and those at your left and right must grasp and hold on to so we can let go of our pains.
Transcend The “Me Mentality”
If you want to make someone feel safe, secured, or heard, you need to step back from thinking about yourself. You need to be generous and think of them: their situations, emotions, and so on, so you can help process it. This requires you to transcend the “me mentality.”
Have you ever had an interaction with someone who appears to listen, yet they always interrupt you? You haven’t even finished explaining your thoughts, your side, or your ideas. Yet they always have a reply to the conversation. I’ve met a lot of people like that in my life and I’m sure you are, too.
Ask yourself this: how was your interaction with that person? Did you feel safe? Do you think they heard and understood your point of view? I don’t think so. Why? Because they listen to reply, not understand.
I Have a Little Problem, Said the Bear
There was a children’s book that I read once entitled, I Have a Little Problem, Said the Bear. It was written by Heinz Janisch and it was an awesome book that teaches the value of listening.
Once, there was a bear who had a little problem. The bear went to town to find people who can help him with his situation. First, he went to the inventor. And as soon as he opened his mouth, the inventor assumed the bear needed wings. Since he’s a heavy animal, the wings will “make him feel lighter.” The bear just shrugged and left.
Next, the bear went to the tailor. And as soon as he opened his mouth, the tailor told him he needed a scarf. So the tailor wrapped a scarf around the bear’s neck. Then the bear went to the hatter, the doctor, the merchant, and many other people. All offered their “solution” before hearing the problem.
In the end, the bear went up the mountain, removed all the “solutions” he received, and sat down. As he did, a little fly asked him what was going on. At first, the bear was hesitant to share. He said, “I don’t want to talk about it. No one listens to me anyway.” But the fly was patient enough to lend an ear.
The real problem, said the bear, was that he was afraid of living alone in his dark cave. There were no other bears around, and he dreads darkness all day long. Long story short, the fly offered to move in and sleep with the bear.
Isn’t Life Like That?
Sometimes, we want to open up to other people. We want to unload our burdens and wish that someone listens to us. But no one is there to offer an ear. They’re all busy doing their jobs. People are so concerned about what’s happening in their life that they don’t have the time to listen with patience.
Once, I had this colleague of mine ask permission from our boss to go back to his old company. This colleague of mine started listing the great things he got from his job right now. Then he started telling our boss that he missed his old company – the people, the work environment, and others.
But as soon as he paused, the boss blurted out his disappointment. He masked his concerns with, “I hope you understand where I’m coming from.” During that time, I felt bad for my colleague since our boss, however affected he was, seemed like he wasn’t listening to understand.
This is your opportunity as a growth-seeker to stand out. It’s rare for other people to meet someone who takes the time to make others feel heard. But the catch is, the people who know how to listen and make others feel safe, they’re the people we remember the most.
Here are some suggestions on how you can transcend the “me mentality” and make someone feel secure.
Ask Good Questions
Here’s a list of 10 questions you need to ask yourself daily that you can also use to help others. When we ask good questions, we get good and clearer answers from people. The better the answers we get, the easier it is for us to understand what other people are going through.
Larry King, the TV and Radio Host legend who did over 50,000 interviews has something to say on asking questions. Specifically, asking better yet simple questions that people can understand. He said, “I watch some of these press conferences, and the question takes longer than the answer. And the people show off. There was no showing off.”
I’m a layman. I’m a pure layman who’s intensely curious. What I do have is a sense of pace. I know when something’s going well, I know how to draw people out.”[*]
Once, Larry King interviewed the late singer Frank Sinatra. To give you some context, Frank Sinatra doesn’t go on a lot of interviews. Especially discussing his son’s kidnapping in 1963. In the middle of Larry King’s interview (1988), Sinatra was the one who brought the kidnapping up! “I was just asking good questions. And that’s the framework of which I like to work.”
When you ask good questions and listen with the intention of understanding, people open up to you.
Listen And Then Speak
The only kind of “listening” that matters is when you listen then add something to the conversation. Listening and soaking up all the information without saying anything, is like talking to a rock. It might sound like a paradox but you should listen without interrupting yet listen with an intent to add.
You can share your:
- Opposing point of view;
- Comment on what they said;
- Share a story that relates to what they shared;
- Pass on hope;
- Give an idea, solution, or point them to the right direction
But where do you get all of these “conversation add-ons”? If you transcend the “me mentality” and make people feel safe, you’ll start collecting them!
Make Sure You’re Trustworthy
Nobody likes a tattletale. If it’s not your story, it’s not your story to tell. When other people tell you something in confidence, it means they trust you. They trust that you’ll hold their secret until they’re ready to talk about it. Don’t breach that trust just because you don’t have topics on the water cooler conversations.
In the book, The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules, author Jennifer Cook O’Toole, shared a story of Socrates. Socrates was once visited by an acquaintance of his. Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story he’d just heard about a friend of theirs. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass the “Triple-Filter” test.
The first filter, he explained, is Truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …”
Socrates cut him off. “You don’t know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “No! Actually, just the opposite. You see …”
Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind. One filter still remains, though, so you may yet still tell me. That is Usefulness or Necessity. Is this information useful or necessary to me?” A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”
“Well, then,” Socrates said, turning on his heel. “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”
Choose Your Conversations
You don’t have to participate in any conversation that harms or belittles other people, especially if it isn’t true. Just because someone is “spilling the tea” or telling juicy stories about others doesn’t mean you should include yourself in it. Choose the path of the triple-filter test.
Now, it’s not about being high and mighty and perfect. Sometimes, you can’t help but be in the presence of people who gossip. Life gives us cards we have to deal with. But you can choose not to add in the conversation. You can make the decision of not adding fuel to the fire. Even better, don’t just be a bystander who doesn’t do something about it.
Live an inspired life,