Mistake #2: My goal was always to explain...

One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears — by listening to them. – Dean Rusk

Anyone who knows me or has been within earshot of me, knows I’ve never met a stranger. That is for sure. I love striking up a conversation, hearing a story that the person shares, then sharing an experience or two of mine. Creating shared moment of relatability, I’m a sucker for these kind of interactions.

Why do we share stories? Stories are relatable. They create that common ground that’s a jumping off point. Yes - I’ve had a similar experience to the one you’ve just shared! Here’s mine - let’s compare notes and see what we can learn!

This plays DIRECTLY into my personal “why”: To create learning moments in people’s lives, including my own.

I feel as if it all ties back to my religious upbringing. You see, I was a “cradle Catholic” (born into Catholicism) in the very evangelical South. Our church was quite literally in the middle of three churches… The largest Baptist church in town, a methodist church, and the local football “church” (stadium).

Within the church wall was a very safe space to make a lot of silly mistakes growing up. Looking back, one of the biggest mistakes I made was thinking that everyone was “family” and wanted to be “friends” with me, mom, and grandma… but that certainly wasn’t the case.

As I grew up in the church, I began to become skeptical (without really realizing it) when a person (who was unhappy with the may my mother was helping her father), used her influence within the church to push my mother out of certain activities that she was helping out with.

I distinctly remember having a conversation with someone, a deacon or something, when I was all of about 12 or so. I was trying to explain to them I really wanted mom to continue to be a youth group leader, but this lady was being “really mean to mom”… and alas my words fell on deaf ears…

And thus was born my “habit” of using my words, my stories, to try to help convince people.

(Mom was indeed pushed out of youth group and shifted in “during mass ministries” such as Eucharistic minister, mass coordinator, and money counter.)

When I got to high school, there was much of the same of me trying to explain things to people: that I knew what I was talking about, that I understood what they were saying, that I was cool… the whole bit. Everyone felt distant, and I only had my words to help pull them towards me.

I mean, come on, this is all what being a “burnt-out, high-anxiety, gifted, neurodivergent perfectionists with a praise kink” (again credit to Catieosaurus for the terminology - https://www.youtube.com/@Catieosaurus) is all about, am I right?!?!!?

Well, the years after high school were not kind to this “charming” character trait of mine.

You see, for most people, by the time high school ends, they somehow or some way get that you have to make this crazy transition away from wanting to be friends with everyone to the idea of “networking”.

For those neurodivergents like me, networking apparently is NOT making friends with people. Networking is meeting with people and figuring out how you both can leverage the relationship between you both to gain popularity, power, and profit.

Networking can be about making friends, but it’s really more about what can I give you and when can you give me. And well, because I knew a lot about a lot of things… I totally could just explain my way to value, right?!!?

(Narrator: He wasn’t right. Not at all.)

This fun little character trait tended to come across as a very charismatic person who could work a room (and there’s no doubt I still can), but as soon as that initial comfortable conversation fades… I go straight into story mode - explaining something seemingly meaningless that we talked about in great detail.

I mean, if I explain that thing to you, you’re of course going to see my value and worth, aren’t you! Aren’t you?

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this tends to push most people away, appearing arrogant, inconsiderate, and obnoxious to them. And who would want to invest anything into someone who make you feel small, insulted, and annoyed?!?!!

The few who chose to push past the “almost but not quite" arrogance would see and understand that my meaning was pure, even if my numerous words tainted what I was trying actually trying to communicate.

As they say, I was somewhat of an acquired taste.

At this point, I wish I could point to one grand moment or revelation here that changed my direction or perspective. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Sometimes understanding and change come slowly, in excruciatingly small increments, particularly for those who choose to pursue it. For me, it’s taken nearly two decades to even come into the ballpark of being able to listen to someone other than myself.

I remember clearly the first time this cord was struck, I was selling someone an iMac or MacBook at the Apple Store. We’d been talking about a new feature that he could take advantage of, which let me to let him know about another feature. The gentleman who I’d been talking with, suddenly stopped me.

“Son, you’ve already sold me on the value. Quit while you’re ahead” he said. “You’ve never done sales before, have you? Once you’ve got the sale, stop trying to sell me. You’ve already sold me.”

From then on, unknowingly, I started my journey to be a better listener.

Shortly after, I started teaching in the 1-to-1 program at the Apple Store. Having to slow down and sit with people who didn’t know or understand the Mac really forced me to listen.

When you’re forced into a situation like that, you learn that you are not just taking time to understand what people were saying, but, if you listen carefully between the lines, you hear what they actually were meaning. These can and are often two different things.

This one skill has served me well in many of the jobs I’ve held in my career since. It’s helped me solve major communication issues between owners, managers, designers, developers, business segments, and franchisees.

But, a surprising side effect happened. Slowly, as I started to listen more, people started to see and feel that extra value I had been trying to offer by (often) over-explaining things. By making that space for them, they were more and more willing to open up themselves and include me.

As of today, I’m fortunate enough to have been entrusted at several times over in my career to lead departments that interact with all facets of the company where listening to not just the words, but the underlying meanings have helped prevent and solve problems at multiple levels.

Am I perfect at it? HELL NO.

Am I better at it? HELL YES I am.

I still work with friends and coworkers to keep my high-functioning anxiety, ADHD-riddled conversation style in check. Often times, my “over explanation” come across as rabbit/rat holes that I can get lost down during discussions or conversations.

These kind souls will, kindly, during the conversation, point it out, and allow me to guide myself back to the topic at hand. But they are also the ones who reach out to me to help talk issues out, process conversations, scope out ideas, and more.

For me, these are the people and relationships I treasure the most. I will continue to invest as much (and probably more sometimes) as I can into these people and our relationships. Because these are the people who have moved me and made a difference in my life. And I’m thankful for them every day.

The Lesson Learned: Stop trying to explain to people the details to win their approval. Instead, listen. Then try to add value by understanding what they mean or what they need. If they are interested in you, they will share their time and perspectives. If they don’t, direct your time and attention elsewhere.