Thursday, December 18, 2014

Question Homework

I have never been a big fan of homework (my grades throughout school reflected that.) I went to so far in college to declare that I would never do homework on a Friday or Saturday (my grades definitely reflected that.) I do remember one of my college professors once saying that if I just came to class, I would pass. If I did extra work (homework) I'd get an A or a B.  The same applies to being a good conversationalist. If you only listen to the person you are talking can fake your way through the discussion. But if you go home and digest what that person said to you earlier in the day, you'll remember more of the conversation and you'll be able to have a much deeper discussion with that person the next time you chat.

Occasionally at my work I will walk with someone from the parking lot into the radio station, if we both arrive at the same time. It takes about 10 minutes. One time I was walking with a co-worker who I knew had just bought a house. I asked how it was going, how the process of buying went, if it was her dream house, what they had to do to fix it up. She eventually asked if I owned or rented and then if I was ever going to buy a house. I said funny you should ask, we put an offer on a house the day before and we're waiting to see if it was accepted. I see that co-worker just about every day. Do you know how many times she followed up with me to see if we got that house? Exactly ZERO times!

I thought we had a pretty cool little conversation (as cool as you can have with a co-worker.) I'll give her credit and assume she was listening to me, but as soon as we went our own tidbit that I was waiting to hear back on buying a house went right out of her brain.

Anybody that has ever bought a house knows its a big freakin' deal. Like, your stomach is in knots until it gets resolved. If you have ever gone through the can sympathize with someone who is going through it.

I just kept thinking every time I bumped into her following our conversation, she would check in and ask how it went. She never did.

For most of us, if we don't intentionally review's gone forever.

A counselor once told me that if you get into the habit of replaying your day right before you go to bed, you will be able to notice habits - good and bad. You'll also be able to see the pattern to what your favorite parts of the day are. After undertaking this exercise for about two weeks, I began to realize the favorite parts of my day were always conversations where I connected with people. I shared something and then they shared something back and a genuine connection was made. What the exercise showed me on a practical level was that I was much better at connecting with people -- if I remembered what we talked about.

Doesn't it mean a lot when you see someone you haven't seen in a while and they follow up on something you talked about last time? "How was that job interview you had last week?" How is your cousin Bob that had the kidney transplant?" What it practically means is that they remembered you. Now some people just have a great memory, but others intentionally go away and think about you and your situation, process it and file it away for future use. Just having someone remember your name is cool, but what an honor it is to have someone think about you when you're not standing in front of them.

I am awful at remembering names. I can't remember where I put my keys and wallet half the time. I leave articles of clothing everywhere across the city. The point is I don't have a great memory in general, but man I remember random facts about people's lives that I've talked with and it's usually because I spent time thinking about them after the conversation.

The best part of this homework is that it doesn't take very long to make information stick, One minute or two at the end of your day is all you need to process something and file it away.

P.S. If I could figure out how to make a Wikipedia entry about myself it would read: Never studied on a Friday or Saturday in college and invented the phrase "Lets Do This"!

Who should talk now?

I want to start with a very big disclaimer: I am a big fat nobody! I am not just saying that to be humble. Ask my wife if you don't believe me.

Ever since I was 19-years-old I have been somewhat in the spotlight. When I was a sophomore in college I was an intern for a radio station's morning show.  People that listened to that radio station knew me as Intern Harry Larry. Being on the radio, most people have no clue who you are. But every once in a while, someone will find out and say, "hey, you're that guy that they made eat yellow snow"!

For just about half my life, I've had a job that people are interested in. My first internship out of college was for was a big time radio show in LA and everyone had questions about the hosts. I've been at TV stations and radio stations and I've gotten the, "what's so and so like" question about a million times. People usually want to know about my job as well. We'll call it the "glamoressness" of my career!

I remember the first time that I hosted a real morning show myself. At radio station events people would always come up and want to talk. They'd ask me questions. I always thought that was funny because every morning I would be sharing about myself on the show. So when I would meet fans of the show (yes I had fans), I would always say, "you know all about me already, what about you?"

I have a muuuuuuuuuch lower profile job then I used to, but every now and again someone will come up and want to meet me.  It's always a kooky experience. But the most recent incident involved my mother-in-law wanting to introduce me to her friend because she knew he listened to me all the time. That was flattering. Having someone tell my mother-in-law, "wow, can you introduce me to Larry?"

It was a long time family friend and it was great. And I don't know how to describe the experience, but when you're in the situation when someone wants to meet get this feeling like you want to talk at them. It's like they are staring at you and saying, "can you give me a private TEDtalk about your life please?"

For some reason this alarm always goes off in my head telling me that it's this other person's chance to talk to me, I already got to talk to them when they heard me on the radio. This particular person heard me giving a traffic report and I immediately asked him where he worked and how long it took to get there. It led to a great discussion about his life and morning routine.

A great discussion considering I was about 5 seconds away from giving him a 10 minute lecture on the finer points of being a bonafide traffic reporter. But instead I asked questions of him and in turn I got to put a face to my unknown audience. I get to think of Ed when I'm giving my traffic reports and thinking that he actually cares about what I am saying makes me better at my job.

How many times does this happen in real life? Maybe it's when one of your children asks you a question or a co-worker compliments you or someone you meet at a party likes your profession. We feel as if this person has just entitled us to give them a discourse on the meaning of life.

You know what these people are looking for? Connection! The guy in his car wants to know what the guy giving his traffic report looks like and he also wants someone else to know that he drives for an hour each way to work to provide for his family.

When an actual person is standing in front of you, and starts off a conversation with a flattering comment, they probably don't want a lecture (they can go get that on YouTube). They want a connection! But what do you want? Do you want to feel important and talk at someone and make sure they know you are a big deal and that yes, you do live up to the standard of the compliment they just gave you?

Or....... are you waiting for people to open up the door just a little bit so that you can start a real conversation and make a real connection? It's not easy. Flattery puts us in a mood to flap our mouths about ourselves. Wanting to build connections is a mindset. Stop Talking. Ask Questions. Change The World.

Just in case I haven't mentioned, I am not a big deal. I am in fact just a scumbag traffic reporter!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why Talk To Someone You Don't Like

In a perfect world we wouldn't have to talk with anybody we don't like. But most of us go to work and there are people we don't like there. Most of us have to go to a family Thanksgiving every once and a while and there are definitely people we don't like there. But there's the flip side as well; people saying 'I can not handle another family function that Laaaaaaary will be at.' I kinda have an idea of the people that don't like me, and what I find fascinating is that when we bump into each other...they're always talking.

Now to be fair I am totally playing the question game with them, so I am throwing out questions fast and furious. But these people that I kinda know don't really enjoy me......they are the most willing to just blab on.

First and foremost, what I think they are trying to do is establish their superiority and so they talk about themselves. It's like they are trying to set themselves up to be the Alpha in the conversation. We hear people do this - talking about their big work projects or athletic feats. It could also be talking about their big social conquests. "Yeah, the Eagles sounded awesome last night from my front row seats at the concert."

Second these people could be blabbing on because it might be a contentious family relationship and so they are nervous and they're just talking and talking out of uncertainty.

Third, it could just be a control thing. If they talk, they think they are in control. 

But it's completely backwards to blab on to someone you don't like!

I am not trying to lead a seminar on how to deal with difficult people OR endorsing a plan to keep your enemies close OR telling you to bypass the counselors office for dealing with all the people that have wronged you. All I am suggesting is that there is a better way to get through conversations with people you aren't necessarily in love with.

If there is someone at work that you are adversaries with, why would you share anything personal with that person? And let's just pretend you're both sales people; something you say could give them an edge up on a client you are both chasing after. 

The actual power-person in a conversation is not the one talking, it's the one directing the conversation. So, why not find out all you can about your adversary? Once again, I wouldn't go out of my way to talk to them, but if I bumped into them in the break room, I would just start probing. Before you know it, they'll spill the beans on their life, you might learn something useful and just that quick, you'll be done with the conversation. And by the way, that person might actually think you're beginning to like them, because people always think you like them if you ask them questions (it doesn't necessarily hurt to have people think you like them.)

The same strategy applies when running into the relative that drives you to gulp down the last of the spiked egg nog. First off, you might actually learn something. Maybe a relative is a computer nerd, just ask them every question you wanted to know about computers. Got a cousin in the insurance business, pepper him with questions about whether you are getting a good deal from your insurance broker.

Second, Thanksgiving is a long day. You gotta kill the time somehow because your mother-in-law is only going to let you watch football for so long. 

The more questions you ask, the more you will fill up your database of information so you can ask more questions at the next awkward family get together. "Hey the last time we talked you said you were going to start a stamp collection, how's that going"? 

If your mother-in-law sees you talking with Uncle Vinny for a long time, she'll give you major points for trying to make the holiday special and all you did was ask Vinny about stamps.

There is an actual real reason to ask questions when you're faced with someone you will never be best friends with - practice. As I've stated about a million times, Americans are awful at asking questions. Why not use the time to see if you can develop some curiosity about a subject you don't necessarily care about. If you can do it with a person who ranks low on your totem poll, you'll be better at it when you're around people you actually care about.

Here is the flip side of not asking questions to a person you don't really get along with -- you'll be the one talking and guess what...they're probably not listening. They didn't care what you had to say in the first place, and nothing you tell them about your last family vacation is going to change that. Don't waste your words! Let them waste their words!

Here is the best reason to let someone you don't really admire can day dream. Seriously! Some people are so clueless that they are jabbering away, and they won't have any clue that you are not paying attention. I mean it, you can literally ask a question and then check out. Day dream about your perfect vacation. Think about what you're going to do with your tax return. Just make sure not to yawn, make sure to keep eye contact and nod every now and again, and make sure you don't ever scowl.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Inside Game

People feel the need to confess to me all the time that they are NOT good question "askerers". I think this is bizarre because the system is set up to be question friendly. We were made to question things (if you don't believe me, I'll let you borrow my 5 year old son for an afternoon).

If you don't like to ask questions, I have good news....there is a way to find out why.

I recently got to spend some time with a person who had gone through Alcoholics Anonymous. I questioned him about the 12 steps and how it felt to finish them. He responded that you don't ever finish them. That steps 1 through 9 are sort of baby steps and that he daily lives steps 10 through 12...even to this day.

I loved his explanation about step 10 which is to continue to take a personal inventory. He explained that the problem was never the problem. That if you ever get angry....if you feel hurt....if you are jealous...there's always a reason for the emotion. The personal inventory is a way to dig into what you are feeling and find out why you are feeling it.

I recently had an obnoxious case of sarcasm ( I know, I know...even more than normal.) My wife had become the prime target of my deep cutting sarcastic tongue. A few of my friends noticed and even called me out on it. I figured this was the perfect time to practice Step 10 and figure what was going on beneath the problem.

You know what I did...I just sat in silence and ran through my emotions. You know what happened - it worked. I think I got to the source of the sarcasm.

I only came to this conclusion after meditating on it, but subconsciously I have been feeling like my wife isn't hearing me.

Because of a big family wedding, we have been slammed with events. I have been spending a greater amount of time with our three kids and also more time with a stressed out wife.

I really like spending time with our kids (mostly I take them on city adventures, which includes eating lots of treats), so the time with them wasn't the problem.

A couple of weeks before my birthday the wife asked me what I wanted to do. And I told her I wanted to go on a date to a new burger place and then to a new wine bar that looked like a lot of fun.

Yes, family details got in the way and we had to scrap my birthday plans. I don't think I was hurt about the cancellation. I WAS hurt that I didn't feel like my wife heard the details of my fun date.

After my soul searching on Step 10, I figured out what I really wanted was for her to say, "I heard your idea about the burger spot and wine bar, and even though we have to cancel for Friday, I promise not to forget those fun spots you picked out."

Same thing with the busy family schedule. All I wanted was for her to acknowledge that, yes, we have a busy schedule this fall, there are lots of things on our plate, I don't have a lot of choice about what our schedule looks like and a lot of the weekend childcare is falling on me.

She immediately wanted to try and fix the problem and she said, "don't you want me to try and lighten up the schedule, maybe get you some help and cancel some events?" I think her problem-solving was part of the problem. My wife is such a good doer....she just moves on to the tasks, without fully hearing me out. I don't need babysitting help. I don't need a birthday party (To fully defend my wife, she was already working on a baby sitter for a make-up birthday date at my two new spots....she just hadn't told me).

I just want to feel like I've been heard. It's been a major revelation for me. I can pretty much move through whatever life is going to throw at me, as long as those close to me are listening.

By the way, I have also since apologized to my wife, as the sarcasm is not an effective way to communicate how you feel.

My personal problems aside, if you want to know why you don't ask questions -- there is a way to get an answer. It's called Step 10.

"Continue to take personal inventory, and when you are wrong promptly admit it".

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

So It Begins

When I first began dating my wife, she called me the perfect cocktail party date (now she mostly tells me my toenails are too long and that I need to flush the toilet).

As we were new to each other, we would often be introducing each other to groups of people we didn't know. In those early days she got to witness my magic act up close and personal a lot - this ability to talk to people I didn't know and pull questions out of nowhere!

The usual throw away line in a social setting where you don't know people is: What do you do for a living? It's a throw away line for sure. The person asking it usually doesn't care and is only asking so that they can kill enough time before someone comes over they know and rescue them from an awkward conversation.

I hate asking this question personally because it's way too cliche and if someone's really smart...they've figured out that I am just killing time.

Having said all that, one of the first times my wife (then girlfriend) came to work with me was to a music festival my radio station was sponsoring. I had to take a few hours manning the radio station booth and people would come up and want to meet me because I hosted the morning show.

People would come up and introduce themselves and say what they liked about the show..... and then there would be this awkward silence! It was as if they got off their chest what they wanted to tell me. They got to see the person they had only ever listened to....and after that, they didn't know what to do. I used to call it, "I finally got to meet you and my gift is this awkward silence."

One quick and easy question to break the ice was always, "are you gonna start stalking me now?" If they laughed the right way, everything was cool. If they grinned a little too much and wanted multiple hugs...we had a problem. My second go to question was always, "what do you do for a living?"

It's actually a great question for a radio person to ask because most people are listening in their car on the way to work. But I'll never forget one guy who said he was in the Navy and that he worked on an aircraft carrier.

This blew me away. The world just stopped. I'd never met anybody who worked on an aircraft carrier and I had a thousand questions running through my head. Did you ever get lost on the ship? Did anyone every fall overboard? What happened if they did? Did you get sea sick? How did you sleep? How did you shower?

I completely forgot that I had brought a date with me to the event and after like 35 minutes of peppering this dude with questions she came over and reminded me that she was still there.

After the event, she sincerely asked why I cared so much about the guy who worked in the Navy. I was flabbergasted. Didn't everyone want to know what it's like to live on a aircraft carrier?

Normally you ask someone what they do for a living and as a general answer it's something like, 'I sell insurance.' I can't think of a subject more boring than insurance (it's certainly not the Navy). But if you have a living breathing insurance agent right in front of you and they are not trying to sell you anything...that means you get to ask him or her all the questions you wanted to ask your own agent, but were too embarrassed to ask?

Can GEICO really save me 15 minutes? Is my agent swindling me by selling me fire insurance? Does my rate for car insurance seem high? Do you ever dump clients for asking too many questions?

The question What do you do for a living? is awesome if you really want the answer.And because it's the person's profession, they're probably good at it and might have answers to anything you want to know.

But most people in a social setting don't want that. They either want to kill time or talk about themselves, meanwhile a grand opportunity to learn about the life of sailor on board an aircraft carrier is lost.

So that is the grand question you have to ask yourself: are you just killing time before something better comes along; are you just waiting for moments when you can talk about yourself; or do you want to learn about what is right in front of you...even if its from an insurance salesman?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Who The Hell Am I?

Let me just sum up who I am in the this brief statement: Larry Olson is a 5'10' white-guy from the suburbs with essentially no real discernible skills.

I say this to people all the time and they just laugh. I never know if people are laughing because they think I'm being funny or because that truth is just so funny.

I am as average as they come. Don't throw a pity party for me, lots of amazing things have happened in my life because of my "averageness".

I have friends that are artists. I have friends that can sell. There are people in my life that can think analytically. There are lots of people that just flat out work harder than me. And to be honest, there are folks that are a whole lot luckier than me.

I want people to fully understand my averageness, to be able to highlight my one actual proficiency: Asking Questions.

Because I am not really good at anything......I have learned to become a good question "askerer". Here's why my averageness is so important. If I can learn to become a good asker of questions, anybody can.

I am walking proof that it doesn't take a whole lot to be a quality questioner. In fact all you have to do is wake up every morning believing this:

It's better to ask more questions than you answer.
The world will be a better place when people listen more than they talk. Think about how much better your friendships would be? Your marriage? Your job? The political system? 

That's it.. I've proven it's not a hard skill to learn. Do not let my averageness scare you. The Question Academy is for all.