Last month I posted a meme that said: “Be the safest person in the room.” That meme was shared 50 times and viewed by almost 12,000 people. (to date my average meme gets less than 1000 views) This kind of response exposed the fact that people are looking for safety, but what do you do about it?? It sounds nice in theory, but practically how do you become that person? Today’s post digs into the answer.
My wife and I have had the privilege of becoming intimate friends with some people that don’t tend to open up. This didn’t happen by accident. Part of the reason is we’ve become a “safe haven” for them to share what’s really on their heart instead of what people expect from them. We then choose to honor the risk they take by keeping their comments to ourselves.
Here are some key ways we have built trust in the relationships we have.
Listen More Than You Talk – I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “God gave you two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” As true as this is, I would recommend you take it a step further. When you choose to speak, make it about them and not about you. It shows you that you’re invested in what they’re sharing and actually care.
I’ve had hour-long coffee dates with people who don’t realize we’ve been talking about their life for 90% of the time. When they do, they’ll say something like “Oh no! We have to wrap up in 15 minutes, and I haven’t heard anything about how you’re doing”. They actually leave feeling super connected even though most of the conversation has simply been them verbal processing about where they’re at in life. This doesn’t mean you never talk about yourself, remember, we’re talking about how to become the safest person in the room.
Use Reflective Listening – This is a standard counseling technique that you can apply to any relationship. It doesn’t have to be saved for “the professionals.” Reflective listening just means you say back to the person what you heard them say. It shows the person that you’re taking in what they’re saying and builds trust. Try to “listen” to the heart of what someone is saying and reflect that back to them. It’s a layer deeper than simply regurgitating what they’ve just said and lets the person actually feel seen and known.
When you apply reflective listening, it enables you to stay on the topic and sets up the opportunity for a more intimate question.
Here’s an example:
John – I’ve been so busy lately with the new business launching next month. We’re behind our deadline and I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to make this thing work.
You – Wow John. I can’t imagine what it’s like to try and launch a business while you’re behind on the deadlines you’ve set. It sounds exhausting and maybe even a bit overwhelming. How are you managing all the stress that comes with the responsibility you’re carrying?
Ask Questions Based On Your Relational Equity – Relational equity is the amount of relationship that’s been built over time and with layers of trust. It takes time for the other person to feel safe enough to process intimate areas of their life. Please do me a favor and DON’T start asking intimate questions to people you don’t adequately know. That’s one of the fastest ways to cause people to shut down.
There’s an exception to every rule, this one is no different. Don’t avoid coming along side someone that’s clearly in need of comfort or desperate for help.
Mirror and Model People’s Mannerisms – Have you ever noticed that you like people who are like you? While this can organically happen, there’s also a way you can become more likable which in turn leads to becoming trusted. My father-in-law first introduced this concept to me when relating it to sales, but you can use it in any setting. It means you adjust to what people do when they’re interacting with you. If they lean back, you lean back. If they talk soft, you speak softly. You get the idea. If you want to learn more about how to use this without looking like a bit awkward, I would recommend reading his post.
Word of Caution: This is something that can easily turn into manipulation. I’ve already stated where that leads to.
Be Intentional With Your Eye Contact – This may sound basic, but you’ll be surprised by the response you may get. My wife is a master at this point. I’ve heard several people say to her “When we’re talking it feels like I’m the only person in the room.” That’s the goal. Let your eye contact communicate that the person in front of you is the most important person at that moment.
Think about the last time you were at a party and the person you were talking to was exclusively looking at you during the conversation. They weren’t looking around, waving at a friend who just walked in the door, or distracted by their phone. I bet you may have a hard time remembering when that happened. Choosing to be intentional with eye contact requires you to be fully present and invested. In today’s society, it will make you stand out from the crowd and will cause people to trust you.
Access Empathy and Compassion – Take a moment to feel what someone is experiencing when they choose to be vulnerable. Then respond out of the understanding of how they must be feeling. It’s the same principle as “walk a mile in their shoes.” You’ll quickly find that people are more apt to trust you when you’re willing to understand what they’re going through emotionally.
Here’s a fun exercise to help learn how to access empathy and compassion. When someone shares what they’re going through, take a moment to think of a time you were feeling the emotion they’re experiencing before responding.
For example: If Sarah just lost her job, isn’t sure what she’s going to do in life, and her dog just died (I know… it’s extreme) think about how she must be feeling. I’d bet she’s feeling pretty overwhelmed and discouraged. (You’ll learn how to identify what she may be experiencing the more you use reflective listening.) Before you respond, take a moment to think about a time you felt really overwhelmed. Actually, do more than think about it… feel it. Respond to her after you connect with the emotion. Your response will be more genuine and she’ll learn that she can trust you with intimate challenges she’s facing.
Be Confidential When People Trust You – I could write this entire point in bold and it wouldn’t adequately emphasize the importance of this. When I say confidential, I actually mean the definition of the word, not your loose interpretation. The definition is: Entrusted with private or restricted information intended to be kept secret. When people see that the things they share stay within your relationship remain confidential, it will build an immense amount of trust.
It means when people say “I don’t usually tell people this, but……….. oh, and please don’t tell anyone I said that” that you actually don’t tell anyone. It doesn’t mean you run to your best friend and say “Mary said not to tell, so don’t tell anyone, but she said…..”. Guess what? Your best friend is going to do the same thing. It has to stop with you.
Make it a point to use reflective listening in conversations you have this week. As you utilize that tool, try to listen to the heart of what they’re saying. If you’re already mastered reflective listening then try to use one of the points that you’re not as good at. The goal of the challenge is to do something outside your norm in an effort to become more present and connected to those in your life. You may be surprised by the conversations that come from taking the conversation a layer deeper than normal. 😉
Over time, you’ll be known as the safest person in the room and you’ll see your influence will grow because people know they can lower their guard and trust you.