Recently my alma mater changed the name of their Alumni Relations department to Alumni Engagement, which supposedly other universities are doing as well. I thought this was a good idea because engaging someone is very different from relating to someone. The major difference is that you may feel there are commonalities with you and someone else, but to engage is to explore the whole person – both the similarities and differences.
So how do you engage someone effectively? The two most important things to do are to listen well and also figure out what is in it for them, not you! To be a great listener, you have to be empathic. In Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he states that empathic listening should entail listening to understand versus the intent to reply. In other words, we need to stop figuring out what we are going to say next, but instead really understand what the other person is saying. It is also important to pay attention to non-verbal communications which usually convey much more than the actual words.
Needless to say, this is all hard to do but with daily practice, it does truly become a habit. If by chance you think you missed something the other person said, try phrases like “now if I understand you correctly, you said…” or “you must have felt …”. To make it truly effective though, you need to not only relay the message back, but also through body language and facial expressions, convey that you truly want to engage the other person.
The reason you want to understand what is in it for them can be explained easily in a sales situation. If I am trying to sell you a car, I may just go ahead and tell you all the features without asking you what your needs and desires are. Wouldn’t that turn you off? Instead it is necessary to spend the time really learning about the other person especially if it is a first time meeting. Get them to tell you about themselves, their product or service if it is a business event, and/or what they hope to gain from meeting you. If they are not too forthcoming, ask questions like “how long have you been in business, what made you want to pursue this particular industry?” or even questions like “what do you like to do off hours?” The last question you should ask them if it hasn’t come up already is “what can I do to help you?” If the person is older or more successful than you, don’t feel intimidated to ask it. It will amaze you the answers you will get.
Regardless how you engage someone, be genuine and always smile.