As a boy I would fundraise for Rotary by selling tickets with my father on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey. With each potential customer, he would break the ice by asking the apparent question, “Been to the beach today?” he would ask incredulously to the sunburned tourists. Even though the answer to the question seemed quite obvious to me, forty years junior, it brought them into the conversation and got them to open up a little bit to tell a part of their story. After a few brief exchanges, he had people smiling and feeling better about Rotary, the benefit event, and the ticket prices! Ultimately, people walked away feeling better about themselves and about Rotary, even though Rotary did not always sell as many tickets those nights.
One of the best lessons I never realized I learned from my father until recently was to listen and make it easy for people to talk about themselves. I learned from my father’s teachings simply by being with him; like when we would visit the old farmer’s market in Philadelphia together for Thanksgiving or listen to him as he worked with patients, lifeguards, neighbors, and classmates.
Sometimes it takes time to reflect and digest on the experiences you have gone through to realize their impact. I have not thought about how valuable my Dad’s lesson was for me until recently. It hit me that experiences like these have influenced me into who I am today. Getting people to talk about themselves is a great tool to help break the ice and coincidentally a Dale Carnegie Golden Rule, someone my father has never heard of.
The funny thing is that perhaps my father did not realize he was teaching me anything, he was just breaking the ice and more enjoyable for everyone. After spending time with him through the years, he does not show any sign that he had this grand plan to teach me this lesson; he is who he is.
As I grow older and play new roles such as friend, husband, leader, sibling, caretaker, volunteer, potential father, and colleague, this ability to listen to others becomes more and more important. To date, I have used this lesson from my father to help make the world a better place. Breaking the ice and getting people to open up can be tough work at times, but it also is an enriching exercise that in the end, makes people feel better about themselves. Over the last few years, I have practiced this skill with colleagues and friends, but more importantly I have taken to time to learn about my father. I don’t know if he realizes that I’m using his own medicine on him, but I know he appreciates someone who took the time to listen.
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