Have you ever wanted to be invisible? Did you ever feel you WERE INVISIBLE? Did you ever WISH YOU WEREN’T INVISIBLE?
A fun take on people’s invisibility fantasy comes from the 1937 radio detective drama, The Shadow, often read by Orson Welles. The opening always began with, “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man—the Shadow knows.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd2cI6K1cSE (takes 10 seconds)
The mysterious detective/crime fighter, Lamont Cranston, was not really invisible. He had “the power to cloud men’s minds so they could not see him.”
The Shadow’s ability to appear invisible might sometimes strike a chord with all of us. It’s like I’m not invisible, but I seem invisible—I’ll be at a party, a business meeting, even giving a speech, but what I’m saying or doing doesn’t seem to be connecting with anyone. I can get the idea they’re not even seeing me.
How to Win Friends and Fail to Impress Anyone
There isn’t just one way to build a life. In Austin we had a famous transvestite named Leslie who I knew quite well. He earned $500 a year running for mayor of Austin and dancing on Congress Avenue. He put a smile on people’s face and will be remembered longer than most of us.
Work in a World Where Our Work Is Never Done
I Kind of Grew Up in an Invisible Family
I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t raised in an outgoing family. How do you develop a personality from a background like that? How do you get the people around you to really see you, hear you, and listen to you? How do you get them to believe that what you’re saying is important?
In those beginning years, when I showed up, people seemed to have someplace else to go. I starred in school plays in high school, wrote articles for the school newspaper, but I couldn’t connect with people. They didn’t seem to take me into account.
So I thought I found the solution. I bought the famous Dale Carnegie book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
Dale Carnegie is big on teaching that you have to talk in terms of the interests of the person you’re talking to.” In other words, if you talk to someone who is a chicken farmer, talk chickens. Carnegie says that keeps people talking all day long.
And it’s true! I’ve found over the years that this technique of talking in terms of the other people’s interests really works well. In fact, people who didn’t talk to you BEFORE won’t STOP talking now—IF you want to relate to people like they’re a download from an Apple playlist. They sing nice songs, but you’ve heard them over and over again and you’ll be hearing them more.
When you talk in terms of the other’s interest as Dale Carnegie suggests, the words are ALL ABOUT THEM and they’ll never get to you. You won’t be getting much opportunity to state your case of who you are and what’s important to you. You’ll be like the DJ for what people say.
So what’s my agenda when I walk into a room and how do I portray myself and my ideas in a very competitive world for conversational air time? What am I looking for when I walk into a team meeting, family gathering, religious service, party, or classroom?
Expectations from people vary wildly, but everyone has some kind of agenda or expectation of how group settings will go. Some people want to be the center of attention or the life of the party. Others want to find a corner to visit with a friend they know, and some just want to know when it won’t be too rude if they leave.
When I walk into a room I have an idea of what I’m looking for looking for:
- The warmth and energy of general human connections
- Colleagues and friends
- Interesting people
- Those with connections to people and resources
- Others I might want to partner with
And here’s what most often happens when I’m in gatherings:
- I generally connect at the human level.
- I go without expectations. You rarely find what you set out to look for and are amazed at what you actually discover that you never dreamed of.
- What I don’t want is to turn out to be invisible, like in the old Shadow radio drama, minds are clouded and eyes glaze over when they see me and they look right through me.
When you want to be seen, heard, and taken into account in a group setting, these are some approaches that can be effective for you.
- Small talk is a good beginning, but don’t stop there. The weather and the basketball playoffs are a good place to begin conversation, but you don’t way to stay there—unless your thing is organizing fantasy sports clubs.
- Build Rapport. Spend a few moments building rapport with the people you talk to. Questions about job, family, and interests are good to insert at this point. I also troll my news apps (I have at least a half-dozen on my handheld) for funny, interesting, and unusual things. I find someone I’m close to and rehearse a story I can easily tell at some upcoming gathering, remembering that timing and build up is everything. Few people you meet will have heard the stories you tell, and new stories are much better than old jokes.
- Look for an Opening to Say What’s Important to You. Then have something that you really care about—my passion is human performance. If I talk about my passions and nothing I say registers with a person I’m talking to, I move on. I’ll find someone who isn’t embarrassed or bored to talk about something significant. It’s a numbers game.
- Blow Past Indifference. One thing I’ve found when I don’t get a good reception for what I’m saying is that I may not have wasted my time in the long run. You need to introduce a new idea into the conversation several times before it gets heard. You’ll have to explain your ideas multiple times to blank stares before people begin to understand where you’re coming from and get onboard.
- Manage the conversation. I hate to say it, but most conversations that you don’t manage aren’t going anywhere. The conversation will drag until you ask a few questions. “What’s the critical part of your job that you have to get right?” The person you’re taking to probably hasn’t ever had anyone who asked them a question like this before, and their eyes will brighten and they’ll give you a wise answer with hand on their chin in deep thought.
- Now Take Your Turn at Talking. Now it’s your turn—they’re not likely to return the conversational ball to your side of the court. At this point, take the initiative and talk about something you’re passionate about. The only way you can interest a person is to paint a picture that will hit them in the gut and then they will listen. Talk in Sound Bites. We all know that the longer we talk, the less people listen. I really struggle with this one. When I hear the sound of my voice, I can’t stop. I try to imagine I’m a newscaster and I have two minutes to get my story aired. Remember when you open your mouth you MUST tell them where you’re going with what you’re saying. Long preambles kill the point you want to make.
- Don’t Talk All the Time. Powerful people don’t weigh in on every subject in a single meeting—over exposure is a real danger. Participants see you, see you need to give an opinion on everything, and then you become invisible. I have really articulate friends who have an excellent ability to articulate their point of view, but they compulsively weigh in on every subject and become marginalized.
- Yes, Do Interrupt. I was always taught by my parents to not interrupt, but that’s one of the major ways we become invisible to people. We quietly spend the meeting being polite, and nobody can remember if we were in the meeting or not. There is a great technique for interrupting. After 5 minutes of an endless monologue, smile, raise your voice a bit, repeat what they just said, tell them it was a great point, and then redirect the conversation to something that’s important to you.
- Do Disagree! Most of us avoid disagreement like a new outbreak of the measles. It’s true that disagreement can be risky, especially with people who see themselves as authorities on a subject. But careful disagreement keeps you from becoming invisible in meetings. Disagree as diplomatically as you can, but give the other point of view when it’s important. I know people who never disagree, and some are quite popular, but they are rarely in a leadership role where there’s a lot riding on results. People who never disagree are often the fall guys (people?) when things go wrong.
- Find Out What People Need and How You Can Serve Them. The most important way not to be invisible to those around you is to be useful to them—that’s the long and short of it. People notice people whom others believe have something they value. That can be personal power and influence, celebrity, access to resources, charisma and charm. If you make your resources available and follow through and serve them, people will listen to you, value your presence, and seek you out.
Being invisible is a really miserable way to live. So many people who walk into a room believe everyone in the room is smarter and more qualified than they are, that the best course of action is to keep a low profile. They engineer their own invisibility. The key driver in any conversation is curiosity and interest in the person and group you’re talking to—and knowing what you’re talking about. The rest is self confidence that avoids arrogance. You have an opportunity to be with people and build with them—don’t be invisible.