I walked into his office, a defeated salesman on the verge of quitting. Two hours later, I joined his mentorship program and signed a loan commitment for $12,500.
Nobody had ever made me feel like I was a man of such importance and stature. I strutted out the door, feeling like I owned the world.
But it didn’t start out that way.
I had stepped into his office hesitantly, intimidated by his display of success. The walls sported pictures of his skiing exploits from all over the world. His desk featured the requisite man with Mercedes photo. All of the trinkets on display looked like museum pieces.
I was barely able to pay my bills. This guy had achieved it all. I hadn’t earned the right to occupy his airspace. What the hell was I doing there?
It took him one minute to relieve my unease.
He invited me to sit.
“Just one sec,” he said.
Then he turned off his cell phone and placed it in his desk drawer. He called his assistant and told her not to interrupt him unless there was a family emergency.
He took out a fresh notepad and pen and sat across from me. We exchanged brief introductions, and then he opened with, “Tell me about your struggles.”
He scribbled notes furiously as I spoke. When I stopped, he shot back with, “That’s interesting. Can you tell me more?”
He’d throw in other questions (what he’d call reversals), not to frame the conversation but to keep me talking. The one or two times he wanted to change the direction of the discussion, he’d first ask permission.
By the time we had finished, he had filled up four pages of handwritten notes. He summarized his conclusions on a giant whiteboard. He labeled it “Barry’s Action Plan To Hit $250K.” I told him my goal was 100K, but he responded, “After hearing your story, you’re capable of so much more.”
And then he sold me on his mentorship program by pointing out what he had written on his whiteboard.
Fourteen years later, I consider it the smartest investment of my life. It was an insane amount of money for me. And I’m still amazed at how he sold me. He had barely said a word, but I had never felt so important, so revered by someone outside my family.
How to make someone feel extraordinary
A few weeks after my mentorship began, he broke down his three-step approach to relationship building.
Demonstrate your interest in them.
The most important lesson he taught me was that demonstrations persuade more than words.
When I walked into his office for that first meeting, he never said, “I’m going to give you my undivided attention.”
Instead, he communicated with his actions. He wanted me to see him turn off his phone and place it in a drawer. His assistant already knew not to interrupt him, but the demonstration mattered. Even the selection of a clean notepad was by design.
I saw all this and concluded; he’s treating me like I’m a dignitary.
But your actions alone, only make up half the demonstration equation.
You also show interest through your body language. Slumped shoulders and lethargic movement signals disinterest. Sharp movements, good posture, and smiles show sincere desire and anticipation about what they have to say.
Imagine meeting a friend for coffee. She greets you with a frown. She checks her phone every time you speak and breaks eye-contact to stare at the table next to you. But she tells you she’s super interested in what you have to say. Hard to believe, right?
If you want someone to know you’re interested in them, don’t say it. Let them conclude it from the actions you take and the body language you exhibit.
Use reversals to keep them talking about themselves.
The Dale Carnegie disciples recommend asking questions. My mentor had his own take on the power of questions. He preferred reversals — brief statements or questions that keep the focus on the other person.
Think of it as a game of Tennis where one player does just enough to keep the rally going. Reversals keep the conversation moving without forcing it into directions your counterpart might resist. It gives them a feeling of control, which makes them more comfortable and more likely to open up to you.
Variations on these reversals will cover most of your needs.
- How so? I didn’t see that coming.
- Really? Tell me more… If you’re comfortable.
- Curious, how did that make you feel?
- That’s interesting, and then what?
- Why is that? If you don’t mind me asking.
- And? Don’t stop now. I need to hear the rest.
- That makes sense. What else?
Notice how there’s a transition statement before or after each question.
When you shoot back with just a question, it comes across as harsh, even with the right tonality. The transition statement buffers the question and makes the conversation feel natural.
If you need to move the conversation in a new direction, always ask permission and give the other person the freedom to decline.
Show someone they’re capable of more than they believe.
I was once part of a clique where one of our friends always took it upon herself to raise the spirits of everyone she met. She’d profess her confidence in their abilities and praise them for their excellence. The problem was, she often had no basis for making these assertions.
Her intentions were kind, but the praise was disingenuous. My mentor had made it feel sincere because he did his homework first.
He learned about me, summarized his findings, pointed out my strengths, and explained how he would help me hone them. Only then did he tell me I was capable of more than I believed.
“You should quadruple your income goal, perhaps more.” The proof was there. I had to believe it.
Had he not gone through the prerequisite of learning about me, he could not have given me a realistic vision of achieving that goal.
To make someone believe they’re capable of achieving more than they believe, you must do the hard work of discovery first. Without learning the truth first, your praise is just bullshit.
A tool for everyday life
These strategies might seem simple and obvious. You might even use them on occasion. But it takes practice and consistency to deploy them in a way that makes someone feel extraordinary.
- Your actions, not words, demonstrate a desire to learn about someone.
- Whenever possible, use reversals to gather information and keep the conversation focused on them.
- Use that knowledge to point out the greatness they never knew they possessed.