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People tell me things.*
Things they probably shouldn’t.
But they feel compelled to do so anyway.
And these people are not only those I’ve known for years but quite often, have been business and personal acquaintances I’ve known only a short time. Or sometimes, just met on a plane or at a conference. (Hey, remember flying? Remember conferences?)
It’s been this way with me for as long as I can remember and delights my family members when they see it occurring. (Seriously, even our girls will shoot me a knowing glance and head nod that says, “Here we go again, Mom.”)
So why does this keep happening? I’ve come up with a few theories:
A need to connect
I believe that people are intrinsically wired to want to connect with others. One way to do this is to share something about yourself or your life, often hoping that someone will do the same with you. When we know each other’s secrets or even something as seemingly mundane as someone’s shopping list, it gives us insight into that person’s life and what they’re dealing with at the time. And this insight allows us to form a connection.
Been there, done that (hated it)
I’ve been approached by numerous industry colleagues who want to vent to me because they know I’ve been in a similar (yucky) situation; a kind of “been there, done that” (and in some cases, “hated it!”) spot. I get it, and I’m happy to oblige.
Sharing your woes with someone more experienced helps you through them. Someone who’s been around long enough that the dilemma you’re going through is probably something they’ve been through already and luckily found their way out of successfully. For many, I’m that someone.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing you’re not crazy. I’ve had people approach me with “I’m just doing a gut check here: does this seem right/fair/insane?” and I know what they’re really seeking are validation and camaraderie. “Yes, your board sounds nuts!” or “No, that’s completely messed up!” have been some of my previous responses.
A non-judgmental place to confess
Sometimes you need to talk to someone completely outside of the action. When you’re dealing with something that gets you all fired up (angry, sad, guilt-ridden, disappointed), it helps to confide in an impartial, third-party whose perspective isn’t clouded with emotion. Almost like a confessional. (But without the judgment.)
I’ve been seated next to strangers on a plane, and by the end of our journey, I know how they feel about everything from their kid’s occasional pot use to their ex-wife’s smarmy new hubby to their beloved dog’s surgery. And they always feel better after sharing.
Ah, helping answer the question of “What should I do?” is frequently a place I find myself. In most cases, I try not to tell them what to do but instead help coax out what they think they should do and then support them in forming an action plan to make it happen.
This is a biggie. I’m really hoping that this is the overarching reason that people confide in me. I’d like to think that all the other answers are merely part of this bigger piece of the pie.
I’ve had folks say to me, “I know we haven’t worked together very closely, but I feel like I can trust you,” and then proceed to share with me highly sensitive information. Or put their confidence in me when they say, “I know I can trust you to keep this between us.”
To me, this is a compliment of the highest order and something I take very seriously. Trust is essential in life and business because we only want to be around people we trust. And when we do feel that confidence, we know that the person on the other end of our discussion will make it — and us — a priority by listening attentively and thoroughly engaging with us.
I guess that makes me part priest, part counselor, and part bartender. And that suits me just fine. I’m honored to play those roles for those who trust me enough to confide in me, to share a part of themselves and their lives.
So, what’ll ya have? I’m listening.
And hey, while we’re on the topic of trust, did you catch my recent Forbes article on it?
I share how to build—and retain—this essential asset that is the basis of all successful relationships. Because ultimately, in business (and life), cultivating relationships is how you’ll excel.
And speaking of cultivating relationships, you’ll definitely want to check out my latest Forbes article that outlines nine ways leaders can make their employees feel cared for to increase productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement. It features insights from my friend Heather R. Younger’s new book, The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations, which is available for pre-order and will be released April 13, 2021.
And before I go, I’m curious: Do people tell *you* things too? Or are you someone who opens up to other people? Either way, let me know the craziest thing someone has told you or you’ve felt compelled to share with another.
P.S. When I’m not writing this newsletter or having strangers open up to me, I’m a social media ghostwriter (yep, that’s a thing), helping founders, entrepreneurs, and CXOs craft their stories to communicate and connect better by magnifying their reach and impact. (Think personal branding and thought leadership.) Learn more here.
P.P.S. One more thing: If you think this post would resonate with others, feel free to share it with your friends. Or better yet, invite them to join our Illuminate Me tribe!
*Fun fact and true story: “People tell me things” isn’t just a statement; it resonated so much that it became part of my business’s original tagline—People tell me things; I write their stories.