I confess, I spoke to Russia… and they listened

How often do YOU project ill intentions not in evidence on others?

Have you ever thought that people in the world are pretty much the same and want the same regarding health, safety and a way to support themselves and their families? And have you ever thought that it’s tyrannical leaders who stir the pots of fear in their base and then point their people at people who are different to see as the enemy?

Six months ago, I was invited to give a one day, six-hour, sole presenter training to CEO’s and managers from the Russian Federation in Moscow on October 16, 2017. BBI (Best Business Ideas) and the Moscow Speakers Bureau sought me out because four of my Russian edition books are best sellers in Russia.

I made the mistake of asking and listening to the many naysayers telling me that I’d be defrauded, not paid, that my smartphone and computer would be hacked and I would be videoed in my hotel room. Some even told me I was crazy for even considering going. In reality, I was crazy for asking these people for their input and even crazier for listening to it. Thankfully I was not so crazy to heed it.

I was about to join these people and project ill intentions and malfeasance on the event planner and speaker’s bureau that were not in evidence. And made even more suspicious by my wife’s worries, I asked to speak to other speakers they’d worked with. I did, and they all checked out. Furthermore, we discussed payment and as was their policy they told me and then paid me fully in advance.

The event went off not just flawlessly; it was the best experience as a professional speaker in my career. From start to finish, from leaving my house, flying business class on Aeroflot from LAX to Moscow and back, being picked up and taken everywhere I desired in Moscow, dining at the White Rabbit (one of the top restaurants in the world) and being hosted at an expensive VIP dinner after my talk, it was beyond my highest expectations.

And regarding the audience? Their receptivity was off the charts. Not only did they engage with me and each other, almost none of them fell asleep during a six hour (four 1 ½ hour modules on listening and empathy plus q & a), day long training.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR0zG28WeCY

This journey was my greatest lesson in what causes hostility and how to end it and turn that into trust and even affection from and towards people who are different from you.

4 steps that cause hostility

  1. Projection of ill intentions not in evidence. The more different other people are, the more it is human nature to become anxious and fearful about them (didn’t our parents warn us to not trust strangers?). Rather than believing that those feelings might be due to our imagination (i.e. maybe we’re paranoid), we project hostile intent on others to explain how we feel.
  2. Denial of projections. The more anxious and fearful we feel when around other people, the more we escalate seeing others as wanting to harm us to explain those feelings.
  3. Confirmation bias. Still feeling anxious and fearful about others or unconsciously worried that our strong convictions are on shaky grounds, we look to be more confident about those projections and the beliefs they cause in us and the more we select out and distort what we see, hear and read to confirm that we are correct.
  4. Preemptive retaliation. With our anxieties and fears escalating even more, we preemptively attack others and justify it as self-defense (think 911 becomes WMD becomes Iraq war).

4 Steps that End Hostility

  1. Assume innocence and good will*. Was that Russian audience coming to spend a day and a significant amount of Rubles to judge me and confirm that I was just another pushy American there to take advantage of them or were they seeking something from me to help them in their lives?
  2. Trust their intentions. Is it possible that they were there because they thought I could teach them something that they needed and wanted that might immediately make their jobs and career more successful by making their relationships better?
  3. Listen to and into ** where they are coming from. Is it possible that if I truly got where they were coming from, both at the surface and underneath where their fears, worries, hopes and dreams lived and then committed to getting them where they wanted to go that they would drop their stone-faced look and greet me with open arms and minds?
  4. Give generously without asking anything in return. Truly show that their wish (and needs and wants) was truly my command. I was paid well for my presentation and I wasn’t there to sell or upsell anything, I was only there to serve.

With both of the above sets of steps in mind, I began my presentation by telling them (as my words were spontaneously translated into Russian with little to no delay), “Some of my American friends told me not to smile when I was in Russia, because you people don’t smile. But then I realized you don’t smile, not because you are angry or negative towards me. You don’t smile because I haven’t earned your trust that I am not here to hurt you, take advantage of you, sell you or even persuade you about anything. Furthermore, your history is filled with foreigners who for centuries have meant to hurt and invade you. And if you trust me that nothing about that is my intention and then if you develop confidence in me that I know what I am talking about and you believe that you can take away some tips and tools which you can use without having to be an expert or American psychologist that will make your life immediately better, you will not only smile… you and I will drink vodka; you will drink me under the table and then several of you will carry me back to my room at the Metropol.”

Needless to say, I had them at hello and they had me because instead of my projecting ill intentions not in evidence at them I assumed innocence and good will which in truth was what they were feeling under their self-protective caution.

What would happen if you did the same in your dealing with others who are different than you? And what if you applied it even in any cases involving hostile and belligerent parties? It couldn’t hurt.

* By assuming innocence and good will, I am not suggesting being unduly naïve. Instead you might want to try my philosophy of identifying, stopping or getting away from evil at the first opportunity, but cutting everyone else — including you and me — slack and giving them the benefit of the doubt.

* Listen into. The Russian edition of my English book, Just Listen, is, I hear you through and through

Dr. Goulston is co-founder of Michelangelo Mindset, a speaker, MG100 Coach & the author of "Just Listen,” the top book on listening in the world.