I went home to Dallas a few weeks ago for a client dinner. I drove up a couple of days early to spend time with my family. Hadn’t seen them since Christmas. It always feels nice to be home; my mother even pressed my pants and shirt for me.
I arrived early to the dinner and sat at the bar - it was an old steakhouse my parents would treat us to on birthdays and graduations. My cousin worked there for a while and once served Emit Smith and Michael Irvin back when it was Jimmy and the boys.
After a whiskey, team members from the client rolled in, squinting in the new darkness. I hopped between groups trying to push through that feeling of being an outsider. After a few pregnant pauses in conversation and a couple drinks, everyone loosened up. I made a friend when I went for artichoke dip at the appetizer table in lieu of shrimp explaining that if I went for the shrimp they'd have to pull the EpiPin out of my coat and stab it through my sternum.
As we stood around a hightop table poking Caprese salad skewers into our mouths, I realized the same truth that I've learned time and time again - but I keep forgetting it. I remembered that all anyone wants is to be listened to. Regardless of the field you're in, people want to be heard.
I drove home with the windows down and felt summer approaching; it now stays light until half past eight. There was construction on 635 west and the dust from piles of gravel got picked up in the last of the breeze from the cold snap we had the day before. I felt good because I made new friends. Even if we were only supposed to be friends for one night, we were all sad to part ways. It struck me how easy it really is; all you have to do is ask people questions and look at them intently. And after they answer your question ask them another question about their response - not as a tactic, not as a maneuver to gain trust - but because you're really interested in the story that led someone to exactly where they are today. If you can do that, it's astounding how willing folks are to let you in. It's uncanny how happy they are to invite you into their circle.
When I pulled up to the house I grew up in, I sat thinking about all of this in my car for a moment. While I taught in South Dakota, there was a security guard at the front door who would invite us to a small town called Two Strike for sweat ceremonies. More than once, he told this story: When neighboring tribes met one another on the prairie, instead of approaching with caution or aggression, the ones who were walking right would say, tell us about your gods. Tell us your stories. Because that's how they understood what mattered to the one another.
And I think the same mindset should be applied to business, education and politics.
Invite others to tell you what matters most to them, invite them to tell you who they are. Because when we invite people to tell stories, we give them the chance to reveal what it is they hope for, what they're afraid of and what they really want. It’s really quite simple; trust that everyone really wants to connect in a meaningful way and push past the discomfort that will always be present. Maintain a willingness to learn and the patience to listen and you can give any group the biggest gift – the opportunity for true connection.