Why Ditching Being Smart Could Get Your Problems Solved

What brought Matt to sign up for my Not Your Typical Book Club was the name of the first chapter of the book Never Split The Difference.

He already thought of himself as a pretty smart guy but now that he entered a new phase in his life, he wanted “New Rules” to succeed (the name of the first chapter).

Matt has been divorced for a few years now and his kids were turning into “independence-oriented young adults” aka entering their teen years.

Matt wanted to still have an influence over their lives but recognized the old “command & control” methods were not being listened to anymore. Literally.

“How to become the smartest person… in any room”, the sub name of the first chapter, intrigued him as a parent and as a now single engineer. Could these new rules apply to his conversations with his daughters and his future dating partners?

After our first book club meeting, Matt and I met for a virtual tea. He had a problem he wanted some help with, and I offered to hear him out.

We started our phone call with the usual question “How are you doing right now?”
I like to go first to set the tone for my conversations, so I answered it sincerely.

I felt a little nervous because of what was scheduled for me the next day. That opened the door for Matt to share he was feeling nervous, too. He had a date later that day and he “didn’t want to mess it up”.

I asked him “Mess up what?”

He didn’t want to appear on his first date as the smart guy. He wanted to make a good impression.

Of course, that piqued my curiosity. He was a smart guy but now… he wanted to ditch being smart for a good impression? I dove in. We didn’t talk about his “problem” for the next 15 minutes however I found out what his fears were, what his hopes were and what making a good impression meant for him.

This was the first time an engineer allowed me to be curious about his dating life. I recognized how honored I was, and I offered to switch to the “problem” after those first 15 minutes. Matt thanked me and happily (I could hear it in his voice) switched.

As we were diving deeper into his “problem”, I asked him to expand further on one of his previous sentences.

He got silent.

I stayed silent.

The phone line went silent.

I could hear his breath, so I knew he was there. Somewhere in his thoughts.

Finally, he spoke. “Andrea, I can’t remember what I’ve just said.”

I remembered it so I recalled it for him and then asked, “Where were you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you obviously weren’t in our conversation. Where were you?”

Matt thought for a while then he said, “I was thinking about how I wanted to make a good impression with you.”

I burst out laughing.

“Like you would do on your date?” I said.

Matt caught on to my laughter. “Yes, like on my date. Would I even remember on my date what I have just said? I was so busy thinking I lost track of our conversation, here, now.”

“Yeah, you left and didn’t even notice you have exited.”

“Yeah, I did! I wonder how many times do I do that with my daughters? I can’t hear them because I am in my own thoughts and then I can’t even remember what I told them. How would THEY listen to me when I am not even listening to myself? This is interesting.”

I paused. His curiosity just awakened.

“Maybe I do this all the time. All those previous dates… this might explain… how interesting.”

I continued to stay silent.

Matt was on the roll. His awareness of his behavior was shining the light on some past unexplained and misunderstood situations.

He was admiring himself from the balcony, as I like to say, without judgment, as someone who was looking at his situation from the perspective of someone standing on the balcony, looking down at the situation, but not being involved in it. With empathy and compassion, seeing himself as not the villain or the victim, but as someone who just didn’t know.

Matt didn’t know he was not listening to others, exiting his conversations with others to formulate what he would say next in order to make a good impression. While in the meantime not even being aware of what came out of his mouth.

He felt deep understanding towards that person (himself) and saw him deeply caring about others — maybe for the first time.

He smiled at him and connected with him. Thus, connecting with himself.

It was beautiful to witness and an honor to be part of.

He closed our conversation with this question “Andrea, is it this simple?”

“This simple?”

“Is it this simple? Do I just need to be more aware? Is awareness the key?”

“Awareness could be the key. And it could be the door you want to walk through first yourself before you expect others to follow you behind.”

“Like my kids. Yes, this could solve a lot of my so-called problems. Being aware first.”

Matt and I agreed these new rules might just make us, not the smartest, but the most aware person… in any room.

And wouldn’t that be a new way of BEING in a conversation with others? Instead of EXITING and missing out on inspiring others to listen to themselves, too?

In my book club we commit to one small action and/or experiment each week.

Matt committed to listening to himself and to his dating partner that night. He wanted to explore what was it like to be 1% more aware during his conversations.

And, when I checked in with him a couple of days later, he joyfully let me know he was planning his second date night with the same person.

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The Engineer Whisperer. Transforming great Engineers into impactful Engineers. Coach.

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Andrea Clough

Andrea Clough

The Engineer Whisperer. Transforming great Engineers into impactful Engineers. Coach.

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