“Can we please do a quick round of introductions?” asked the program director in the beginning of a three-day workshop that started on Wednesday, conducted for participants from all over Europe.
A standard self-intro flashed through my head: “Hello, I’m Lukas, Project Manager, six months with the company, I enjoy Public Speaking.” Short, to the point and does not draw too much attention. Just perfect, isn’t it?
Perhaps not. In fact, for me such situations always felt a bit awkward. With all those people I had spoken at least once in a conference call – but I didn’t really know any of them. So what do I say? Maybe what I’m currently working on in the company? What I was working on since I joined? My life story?
When I was 19, I read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. My takeaway was that everyone is interested mainly in themselves. No need for me to be personal.
One year later I read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where the habit Seek first to understand, then to be understood led me to believe that I always need to listen first – and again, speaking about myself is rather useless.
For more than ten years I would, at least in a professional setting, follow that advice. And I felt really good about it.
Earlier this year however, I read Mark Manson’s Models – and got another perspective. Coming across a chapter about vulnerability, I realized that maybe I’m getting it all wrong.
“(Vulnerability) can mean putting yourself in a position where you can be rejected, saying a joke that may not be funny, asserting an opinion that may offend others, joining a table of people you don’t know (…). All of those things require you to stick your neck out on the line emotionally in some way.”
Not sticking my neck out – that was a fresh view of my perfect listener attitude. True enough, not sharing anything personal gave me a convenient feeling of security. Having on a mask of a professional, I never had to stick my head out – and never risked rejection (indeed, if I didn’t say anything personal about myself, there was nothing anyone could reject). It has probably also made me a slightly dull conversation partner.
The standard self-intro flashed through my head – and ended up in an imaginary trash bin. It was high time to try something different.
“I’m Lukas, project manager. If something interesting happens tonight at the team dinner, I will most likely post it on my blog. In my free time, I help people develop presentations – if you ever need help with preparing your first TED talk, I’m your man. Oh, and by the way – I really like heavy metal.”
With the words heavy metal, laughter spread around the room. A colleague from the UK jokingly said that he indeed doesn’t listen to THAT kind of music; a colleague from Belgium smiled, shook his head and commented that with my short hair and business outfit I don’t look like a heavy metal fan at all.
The ice was broken – and a good workshop was on the way.