Several years ago, I was visiting some family friends in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the weekend. It was Sunday morning and we’d just finished breakfast. Everyone had gotten up but me. I was lingering over my second cup of coffee, when Donny came back and joined me at the table. We had a moment of idle chit chat before he launched into his real purpose.
“Rob, I can’t seem to meet any girls, and when I do, I have trouble talking to them. I don’t know what to say. How did you used to do it?”
First of all, I was shocked that he asked me. I was in my early thirties and had been married for several years. Nevertheless, I was flattered that he thought I still knew how. Second, I was surprised he was having such problems. Donny was a sophomore in college; he was tall, blue-eyed, blonde, and had the athletic body of someone lifting weights.
We talked about some of the places he could go to meet women. That was the easy part. I wanted to help Donny, but I wasn’t quite sure what to tell him about talking with them other than to be himself. He then asked me if I knew any good pick-up lines. I cringed and said, “There is no such thing as a good pick-up line that is always going to work; you run the risk of coming off cheesy because every situation is different.”
Suddenly inspiration hit me as I recalled something I’d seen in his father’s study the day before. Part of that inspiration was to have a little fun at his expense, and I said, “Well, you know your father has a book on how to pick up chicks.”
“What?” he practically yelled. “NOT my old man!”
Donny was right about that. His father, Tony, was a very conservative married man. Even so I continued, “Oh yeah, I saw it on his bookshelf just yesterday. Come on, I’ll show it to you.”
He followed me into the study, and I went up to the bookcase and pulled off the shelf, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I handed it to him, and he immediately started reading it.
Now anyone who has read that book knows it was not written with the intention of teaching men how to date women. On the other hand, if you were to apply the business relationship skills, taught in Carnegie’s book, to dating that it would work just as well.
Later on that afternoon, I drove back home to Atlanta. On Thursday evening I got a phone call from Tony, “Rob, what on earth did you tell Donny about that book? He’s had his nose stuck in it all week, and he’s read it cover to cover. You gotta tell me, because I’ve tried to get him to read it for years.”
I told him the story, and we chuckled together. That was around the time I was just hitting my stride as an advertising copywriter, so I added, “Tony, all I really did was to apply one of the most basic principles of advertising and that is: Know Your Audience and Position the Product Accordingly.”
But, as I’ve gotten older, I realized that it was so much more than that. What I was really doing was practicing Emotional Intelligence. I felt for Donny, because I knew from personal experience how difficult it can sometimes be, when we see someone we’re attracted to, and don’t know how to strike up a conversation. It’s a mix of two basic emotions — two conflicting motivators: Desire vs. Fear. We desire the person we see, yet fear of failure keeps us from acting.
Using Emotional Intelligence is all about having empathy for someone and using that to communicate more effectively with them. When we take the time to hear and feel someone’s pain (or happiness), we are better equipped to help them (or celebrate with them). Human beings experience dozens — if not hundreds — of emotions. If we can pick up on what another is feeling, and relate it to an experience we’ve had that is similar, then we can adapt to the situation better, and make better decisions. This is a practice that will help you in every area of your life, not just personal, but in business as well.
Postscript: the advice from the book worked for Donny. Shortly after reading it, he met a woman; and they went on to marry and have a family.