My gran was the most powerful woman I’ve ever met. She loved to laugh and go on adventures, and she was a great listener. She was from South Africa, and her accent made her resemble a late-era Audrey Hepburn. She spoke five languages, including a tribal click language. Oh, and she was 4’9”.
Because we lived on different continents, I remember every one of my gran’s visits. She would teach me British card games, but the object was less about winning than it was about creatively and memorably swearing at each other. I loved this lady.
The other thing I remember about her is that she would talk to anyone and everyone; it was so embarrassing. Every time you looked away, she would march off toward the nearest group of people. By the time you turned back, she’d be holding both of the hands of some poor, cornered stranger, staring up into their eyes, and asking them only personal questions.
“Are you happy in your life?”
She’d get right in there.
“How much money do you make?”
Her favorite question to ask: “Do you have any discounts for an old woman?” She got a lot of discounts.
One time while we were waiting to get on a plane, she talked to every person in line. By the time we got on the plane, she was best friends with the entire terminal.
As a kid, this was embarrassing, but as I grew older I came to understand that my grandma was demonstrating what became for me the secret of living a big, successful life, as well as making money: Get noticed, be interested, and seek feedback.
The traditional wisdom about employment is that you should show up on time, keep your head down, and let your work speak for itself. But the new research tells a different story: You’ve got to put yourself out there. You’ll do best when you make sure the right people see you doing great work.
It’s always more tempting to hesitate or hang back and hope your work will speak for itself. But if you never audition for something, whatever your reasons for not doing so might be, you can be sure you’re never going to get it. If you want to increase your opportunities, build your network, identify mentors, and learn to speak to people you respect. Think of the people you know as holding opportunities for you, as well as able to give you feedback you can learn from.
According to a group of entrepreneurs surveyed by The Muse, getting yourself noticed in the workplace can help you earn promotions faster and easier, which in turn helps you bolster that bank account. Show what you can do, and that you’re willing to put yourself out there, and you’ll prove that you deserve more responsibility and a higher income.
And once you’ve summoned the courage to approach an influential person, be interested. Being impressive is often not about what you say, but about your ability to make the other person feel heard. My grandmother helped me understand that what makes us interesting is our interest in others.
Do you know someone who is a terrible listener? They’re just waiting for you to stop talking so they can talk some more? (If you can’t think of someone, it might be you.) Do you know someone who is a great listener? That’s the first person you go to when you need to get something off your chest. That person has power, because they’ve impressed you simply by listening.
The key to being likeable is the ability to listen. Don’t be inappropriately personal, of course (unless you’re in your 80s, then go for it), but definitely be noticeably interested.
I call it “adding value.” How can I put your needs ahead of my own? How can I work to help you achieve a win without asking for anything for myself? By focusing on helping someone else first, they are now more likely to want to see how they can help you. Because you didn’t ask for value, you gave it. And even if they don’t help you in return, you get what’s known as the “helper’s high,” proven to increase your happiness.
Researchers Zhao and Liden discovered that interns who practiced ingratiation and increased their likeability were 55% more likely to receive job offers. This behavior had a stronger influence on receiving offers than performance. So, if you want the job, the salary, and the responsibilities that come with it, listen, be helpful, and add value to the lives of those around you.
My grandmother’s conversations with strangers were designed around the way they reacted to her. With one person she was silly, with another she was sincere.
When comedians try out new material, they’re listening every bit as much as they’re speaking. They’re listening for laughter and mmm-hmms (and moments of disinterested silence, as well). They use this feedback to edit their material further, and improve based on feedback.
How can you seek feedback? By asking for it. Keep doing the work of approaching people with your ideas. Test them and edit based on people’s reactions. Or, if you’re even braver, seek feedback on yourself.
Marshall Goldsmith’s research study of 86,000 leaders confirms that if you ask people for feedback and regularly follow up, you’re far more likely to become a more effective leader, partner, and the person you want to become.
Finally, to be more like a grandmother seeking out discounts by engaging in conversations, seek out as many opportunities as you can get your hands on. Take on work from outside your team at your job, approach the people you want to meet at events, strike up a conversation with anyone you can. Musicians call this “gigonomics”—playing every gig you can, because if you do, you never know who will be in the audience. Success is a numbers game—you never know who might offer you your next gig, job, pay raise, career…
Me? I just call it “grandmanomics.” Get noticed. Be interested. Seek feedback. And heck, go out there and get yourself some discounts.
Now, go make your grandmother proud.
Featured everywhere from NPR to The Moth and Reader’s Digest, Colin Ryan is an award-winning comedic financial speaker (seriously). Listen to his winning story here. He is based in Burlington, Vermont.
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