Honestly telling people what you like is a great way to gain their trust, make connections and become more persuasive.
When someone asks you whether you like something or someone, what goes through your mind? If we are particularly self-aware (and honest with ourselves), we might notice that we try to figure out what is the “best” answer. The results tend to be either vague, non-committal answers (“I like some things about that band, but I’m still not sure that they are very good” or just straight criticism “That band sucks.”
I think that this is because many people confuse “liking” something with judging it. When we talk about liking or not liking something, we often use judging language like “good,” “bad,” “best,” “worst ever,” “a travesty,” “genius” etc…. Saying something is good is not the same as saying that I like it.
I have been thinking about this recently because I am beginning to realize that one of the single most important elements of persuasion is our ability to make authentic connections with another human being. And one of the best ways to make a connection is to reveal our passions. When I work with people who want to be more persuasive, one of the things that I ask them to do is share what lights them up. Now, these are passionate people with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, so it would follow that this should be an easy exercise. The surprising thing is that it is really hard.
Make a mental list of three things that you really like. Be as specific as you can and try to feel why you like those things.
Two things tend to happen.
1. We choose things that are vague, safe and generic. (Spending time with my family, walks on the beach, being with friends.)
2. Everything gets foggy and we begin to think that we don’t have any passion for anything.
Now there’s nothing wrong with that list in the first one. We might actually like those things, but they are so generic the way that they are written that they make us feel safe. They also tell people virtually nothing about us.
We cannot simultaneously hide from people and connect with them.
I think of the second one as a safety shutoff valve. The pressure feels too high, so we shut down. If we really don’t know what we like, then what a great opportunity to be curious. Start with something safe (food, music, movies) and just experiment. Do I like this? What do I like about about it? Be mindful of not falling into a defensive posture. We might love something that we know is embarrassing.
(This explains why I hid my Weird Al records from my friends.)
People get pretty far in life hiding. There are actually a lot of rewards for being generic, and, conversely, punishment for being different. (Think middle school.) At some point, however, we reach a point when we are in a leadership position (or we are just tired of not speaking our truth) and the only way to lead is to make meaningful connections. The only way to make those connections is to know how to share what lights us up.
Want people to follow your vision? Move away from the generic language of safety and the critical language of judging and trust that there is power in your passion. Be specific. Let go of the idea that someone has to be “right” and someone has to be “wrong.”
Stop trying to game the conversation and manage the relationship. Show people your passion, let them know what you like and notice the difference in your ability to connect, communicate and persuade.