It sounds harsh, I know. And you likely have a pretty solid message. Maybe even a message that could change or save someone’s life. But that’s only more reason for you to realize that nobody cares what you have to say.
The statement isn’t mine. It’s a piece of advice that was given to me by someone else. I was in a nuclear power plant teaching a class on safety and change to a group that were forced to attend. I loved the material, I had worked diligently on my delivery, the stories I would tell, and polished my facilitation skills to make sure I was doing all of the right things.
When I walked in the room, I couldn’t wait to start presenting. So many groups before had been excited for the content, looking forward to listening to a couple cool stories, and ready to interact with each other during the workshop.
But not this group. All of the participants had angry looks on their face. None of them had touched their workbooks and half of them weren’t even facing forward in the classroom.
As I made my way around the room introducing myself, the responses were luke-warm at best. Then, one man, being a little more direct than others, had the audacity to tell me “Hey, nobody cares what you have to say today. They just want to check this off the list to say they finished. So, if you could hurry it along, we would all like to be done with this crap.”
Obviously, I did not see this little bit of information as helpful. In fact, I saw it as a direct challenge and struggled delivering the rest of the day. I let his comment throw me off because I expected people to be as excited as the last group. I wanted the people that were ready to learn, that were excited about the material, and that would, at the very least, attempt to pay attention.
But wanting the “good” group is a trap. What that “direct” person had done, that so many other groups hadn’t, was tell me EXACTLY where they were at. Reminding me that it was my job to make the material that I had brought, that was important to me, be important to them…or they weren’t going to listen. Lots of groups stop listening without saying anything. Some don’t even knowing they are doing it. At least he had the decency to be honest.
There is a difference between getting compliance and getting real buy-in. Between being truly engaged and just being polite. Knowing that they don’t, inherently, care what we have to say forces us to put ourselves in their shoes, to try to understand their wants and needs, and, ultimately, making it about them first.
Our message, our story, and our content are all secondary to the person sitting across from us. What is important to them? Why would they care? What are their primary concerns and areas of stress?
When I went back for day 2 with that same group, rather than focusing on my content, stories, and interests, I focused on those questions. Only then does the information I’m bringing have context that matters to the participant.
They are there for themselves. Not for our content, our stories, or even the change we think is going to be life changing for them. The more we prepare ourselves with this information from the beginning, the better positioned we will be do to what we are actually there to do, change THEIR lives.
And that only ever starts by putting ourselves in there shoes.