The other day I asked an old friend of mine, “Why did everyone hate me at that job?”
He said, “everyone thought you were an arrogant jerk.”
Then they fired me.
I had forgotten how to communicate. I had forgotten the basic premise that allowed for the survival of our species. The ability to communicate far better than any other species.
RIght now there is writing, instagramming, tweeting, status updates, youtube videos, quora answers, podcasting, and basic one-one communication.
We have to learn the basic tenets of communication so that in this world where we receive up to 20,000 messages a day in all of it’s varieties, our communications can rise to the top. Our message can be heard. Our MEANING can have an impact.
Here’s what I do now to help myself communicate better.
A) IT’S NOT ABOUT ME
I’m one person out of seven billion. There are so many problems on the Earth: war, poverty, sickness.
There are also many ways to solve these problems. There’s innovation every day. There are cures invented every day. There’s people who want to help and have the resources.
The pain in the world is caused by the gap between the problems and the solutions: corruption, bad education, fear.
Having “Meaning” in life is when you can stake out your own small little way to close that gap. That is the gift your existence brings to history.
When I made a lot of money, I forgot to create Meaning in my life.
This left me with no “next step” in my life. Nothing worth saying to anybody. Having a vision had helped me make the money. But suddenly I no longer had any vision.
So I went straight down.
I forgot to ask at the end of every night, “Who did I help today?”
Listening is the underpinnings of communicating.
You can’t solve a person’s problems by giving them money (although that sometimes is a solution).
We are all constantly trying to tell our story. We wear masks, put on appearances, dance the dance.
The gap occurs when the story we tell is different from the story we are trying to tell. The story of who we are inside.
The one who listens is the one who can figure out that story. This is the first step at communicating to that baby child inside that wants to come out and play.
Without the right question, you’ll never get the right answer.
We’re not really smart enough to come up with the right answers. But if we listen carefully, we can ask the right questions.
One question leads to another. 1000 questions might lead to one answer. One solution.
I’ve done 100s of interviews. A bad interview is when you have pre-canned questions and you already know the answers.
A good interview is driven by curiosity. Dig a little deep. Get someone to take off the masks a little but so you can see who they really are.
People love people who ASK them. People don’t like people who TELL them.
When my daughters were real little they wouldn’t go to sleep until I told them a story about when I was a kid. I had to tell them a new story every day.
They didn’t want a lecture on why you shouldn’t steal. They wanted to know about the time I stole and got caught.
Between you and me there is a vast river. A story is a boat. An idea is a passenger on that boat.
Only when you put the idea in the boat and send it in the right direction, when the wind is blowing just so, and the weather is the right temperature, does it have a chance of reaching the other side. At reaching you.
Laughter is before language. It’s primal communication.
If there was a rustling in the bush: could it be a lion? Or is it just the wind?
Once a mammal discovered it was just the wind, an instinctive laugh would come out, informing the other members of it’s tribe that there is nothing to worry about.
Danger transforming into relief is communicated via laughter. This is true for at least the last 2 million years. Everyone is in danger constantly. How many people around the world woke up at three in the morning today, scared of something that will probably never happen. I know I did.
Getting people to laugh tells people the danger is ok. You’re safe here. In this spot, right now. With me.
I used to go on a lot of news TV shows. I’d be on these panels and they’d tell us when to argue with each other. I’d be sitting in a dark room in the studio with a camera facing me and an earpiece in my ear and ever now and then a voice would say, “Ok, argue now!” And we all had to be perfect. Nobody was allowed to say, “I don’t know”. I was always so scared because I never knew. But I foolishly felt like being on TV was a good thing. So, like everyone else (although that’s not an excuse), I’d pretend to know. And then we’d all go home. Great job! But when I took a shower I felt like I could never get clean.
So many things I got wrong. So many times I tried to be perfect and couldn’t handle it unless I was perfect. To the point that perfectionism almost led to a very imperfect suicide.
Deep down, we’re all trying to figure this out. Why are we here? Why did this happen to me? How can I do better? When we admit it, share it, question it – we can communicate with that primal emptiness inside of everyone that just needs to be heard. It’s in those moments of vulnerability that we become the best communicators.
How can silence be a way to communicate? We all think about 60,000 thoughts a day.
The only problem is: 95% of those thoughts are the same thoughts as yesterday. Silencing some of those thoughts would result in less stress, less anxiety, fear, regret. We speak about 10,000 words a day. What if we spoke one half of that? Whenever I write a book I try to go on a silent retreat. Not to get rid of distractions. To get rid of me! When you speak, you spill your energy everywhere. It disperses into the sky. Into nothingness. Here’s a good trick to try: When someone is talking to you, if you are already thinking of a response while they are still talking, then you aren’t listening. Let them finish. They have something to say to you. There’s other skills of course: sales, languages, building things…I don’t know.
I’m not really good at most things that people consider valuable skills. I’m shy and like to sit in my room and I’m afraid to meet new people. But I force myself to because I think, “this will take me out of my comfort zone.” And then I will have something new to say. Then I can maybe help someone.
Then I will have an answer to the only question that is ever important. At the end of the night, when the lights are out, when there’s nothing left to say or do or think, to just wonder, even if there is no answer:
“Who did I help today?”