Are you focused on communicating or connecting?
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One of my favorite moments as a magician happened during the spring of 2009. I was contracted to tour all the senior centers in Springfield, MA with my magic act and when I showed up to one of the locations one afternoon I was met with a most unfortunate circumstance. Everyone was playing bingo.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a performer it’s that no one wants to be interrupted from what they’re doing to watch a magic show. Especially senior citizens playing bingo! After explaining that I had been asked to present that day a woman in the back of the room gave me a stern stare and a scowl. Her only question was, “How long is your show going to take?”
“It depends,” I replied. “If everyone is enjoying themselves and participating then the show can go as long as an hour, but if there’s not as much participation then it will probably be over in about 40 minutes or so.”
Her response wasn’t very reassuring: “It will be a short show.”
Regardless of the circumstances and the criticism, I boldly stepped forward and performed giving everyone my best effort. To be sure, there were a number of folks there that were interested in my presentation and I quickly aligned myself with those allies, but I kept a close eye on that woman in the back.
It was about halfway through the performance that I noticed her expression begin to change. Where once there was a scowl there appeared a smile, and where once there was scorn there was now laughter. By the end of the show this same woman who had wanted nothing to do with me actually willingly volunteered to participate with one of the demonstrations!
As I was making my rounds after the show thanking everyone for having me, the woman pulled me aside and paid me a compliment that to this day I don’t think has ever been beaten. She said, “Jonas, I don’t like magicians, but I like you!”
The Secret Of Magic
I’ve been practicing magic for over twenty years and perhaps the number one question I’m asked is “How’d you do it?” The honest answer is never what people think. What I’ve come to understand is that what makes for a successful magic show has less to do with sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors, and instead has much more to do with making meaningful connections with others.
Every time I walk out on stage in a theatre, or ballroom, or up to the front of a conference room, I’m walking into a situation where I have to work with people that I’ve never met, and yet I still have to arrive at a positive outcome.
Perhaps the best encouragement I’ve found in this regard comes from the words attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt: “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” In other words, I could be the greatest magician in the world technically, but if I haven’t learned how to demonstrate genuine care and mutual respect for others then no one’s going to care one way or another whether I can find their playing card!
The real secret to magic, and the real challenge of any team, organization, family, or community, is learning how to make meaningful connections so we can work with one another positively and effectively. This is challenging for many, however, because so many of us simply don’t give any thought to increasing our capacity for making meaningful connections, either because we don’t think of it as a skill that can be honed, or because we don’t think of it as important. And because so many of us simply don’t think of it, it stays off of our radar, unaware that we could be achieving so much more if only we put in the effort in this area.
Shift In Focus
If you’re interested in achieving more and would like to learn to connect more effectively and meaningfully with others, then a good place to start is by making a shift in your focus. Communication tends to be about you—it's about what you have to say and how you say it. Connecting, on the other hand, is about others—it’s about relating to others on common ground where beliefs, values, and goals intersect. This should be an easy task for folks who work for the same organization, are in the same department, are members of the same family, and so forth—seeing as they have an obvious common connector—but trouble can arise when disagreements in direction, values, and ethics come up.
To overcome such issues, here are three simple steps that you can use to increase your capacity for connecting with others:
There is a fine line between seeking likability to achieve a worthy cause and seeking likability to feed “approval addiction,” but with the right intentions likeability can be a powerful tool for connecting with others. Being likeable in this context means demonstrating genuine care and respect for others. This is perhaps the most influential factor in working with others. Simply put, if people like you they will listen to you, and if they don’t then they won’t. The woman I mentioned at the beginning of this article wanted nothing to do with me until I was able to make myself likeable, and once I was able to do that it created the opportunity for a positive experience. How do we demonstrate care and respect to foster likeability? One way is by asking questions.
Asking people questions is not only a great way to get to know them—and therefore enabling you to better identify common ground—but it also communicates that you are genuinely interested in them. This involves honestly listening to the answers you receive and it also involves asking some self-reflection questions. Do you feel what they feel? Do you see what they see? Do you know what they know? Do you want what they want? Asking questions of this quality puts you in the mindset of seeking to serve rather than to be served. Once we have the answers to our questions we can put them to use with humility.
Humility is often associated with weakness, however it’s more correctly viewed as a strength for those confident in their abilities. This view of humility is inspired by the British poet and journalist Alan Ross who suggests that humility means knowing and using our strengths for the benefit of others on behalf of a higher purpose. In all of my magic performances the emphasis is never on me; rather, it’s always on my audience. In fact, there are many segments in my act that are designed to empower the audience to allow them to make the magic happen! Humble leaders don’t think less of themselves; rather, they simply choose instead to consider the needs of others in fulfilling a worthy cause. When we make others look good by facilitating opportunities for their best selves to shine, not only do we become much more likable, but we also gain friends and influence. This is the real secret of magic!
By choosing to be likeable, interested, and humble, we’ll position ourselves to find the common ground needed to establish connections with others. Using this as a starting point, we can then apply the 101% Principle, which suggests that we find the 1% that we have in common, then give that our 100% effort. When we do, the results will be magical!
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Jonas Cain, M.Ed. is a storyteller, magician, musician, and facilitator of fascination on a mission to help you experience abiding joy.