Rule #1: Turn away when he looks at you.
Rule #2: When he turns his head, it's your time to look at him. But whatever you do, never stare him in the eyes -- he'll think you're challenging him. And that's something you don't want to do!
No, I'm not talking about dealing with a psychopath. I'm talking about having an everyday communication with a gorilla capable of tossing you into a tree.
I was taught the techniques of proper gorilla communication during a trip to Africa 20 years ago. And I have to tell you, I learned at least as much about harmonious and productive communication from a large silverback as I did from reading scores of books on the subject by leading experts.
I was fortunate enough to visit the area where primatologist Dian Fossey did her groundbreaking research and fieldwork. Our guide told us that your initial encounter with a gorilla is critical, and that you have to go through certain rituals if you want to have a good experience with the creature. So I was confused when a female gorilla with her baby in tow came out of the bush, about 20 feet ahead of me, and then proceeded to ignore our presence. "What's the big deal?" I asked myself. I'd hardly finished the thought when a large male gorilla plunked himself five feet in front of the female and looked right at me. Then I got it. He was in charge and we were playing by his rules.
Once I got into the rhythm of turning away when the gorilla looked at me and turning back when he looked away, we established "communication harmony." He rewarded me for catching on by letting me take numerous photos of him in various poses.
I not only walked away from the encounter with dozens of wonderful photos, but I extracted some cross-species lessons that have proved invaluable in establishing rapport with people in my personal and business life. Here's a summary that may help you, too:
- Be a good listener. With the gorilla, it was all about being a courteous observer. With people it's about being an attentive listener. When you're attentive, you show respect, and I believe that everyone wants respect as much as they want anything else.
Finally, here's my favorite takeaway -- it's a little trick that I like to call "pay attention to what is going on between the two of you." I was very alert to the interaction between me and the gorilla; I'd have been a fool to do otherwise. If you miss a beat, the other party knows that your focus is elsewhere and you may pay the consequences.
Before I met the gorilla, I was often under the illusion that I was participating in a productive conversation, only to later find that I was on FM and the other party was on AM. The old silverback taught me the importance of listening between the lines -- because sometimes the heart and soul of the conversation are never said in words.
Communication is the ultimate human connection. If you follow the "silverback tips" that I learned, you'll maximize your chances of successfully establishing rapport with others. And you may never be in a position where someone angrily growls (like Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver), "Hey... you lookin' at me?"
For more by Rob White, click here.
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