In poker you often win not by playing your cards, but by playing your opponents cards. My good friend and sometimes poker mentor once told me that to become a winning poker player, you must learn to win the pots that no one has a legitimate claim to. If you have an excellent hand, you’ll probably win. If he has an excellent hand, he’ll probably win. But if neither of you has a particularly good hand, the pot is up for grabs. It’s in situations like these that rather than playing your hand, you focus on your opponents weakness.
In real life, too, I find a lot of value in working from other people’s weaknesses, especially societal weaknesses. As urbanization continues along with population growth, standing out from the crowd becomes more and more difficult. Even if you are exceptional, your impression can drown amongst the sea of other people everyone is meeting. The solution, or part of it anyway, is to identify what society at large is bad at, and excel at it. By doing so, you become even more distinct as the field increases.
Here are some examples of ways I try to distance myself from the crowd.
1. Always be on time. Being late has become the standard. I never expect anyone to show up to anything on time, and I’m usually not surprised. Most people won’t be terribly late, but five or ten minutes of tardiness is the norm. For the past few months I’ve made a point of always being on time for everything. A week or two ago I was half an hour late making a phone call, and I still remember it today because it was such an egregious violation of this standard.
2. Correlated with being on time is being reliable. When people say they will do something, I assume that there is a fifty fifty chance of it actually happening, especially if it’s something unimportant like, “Oh, I’ll send you that link when I get home.” The bedrock of trust is reliability, allowing people to trust that if you say you’ll do something, it’s as good as done. This is important for both sexes, but particularly for men, since we tend to be judged more on consistency and reliability.
3. Being present. With all of our distractions, particularly cell phones and screens, I find that most people have trouble staying focused. Whipping out a cell phone in the middle of someone else talking is totally normal, yet horrifically rude. If I’m going to take time out of my day to spend time with someone, I show them respect by ignoring my phone, even if it dings. This always surprises people. If you have problems doing this, put your phone on airplane mode when you’re around real live people.
4. Listening. I think that our consumption habits from electronic devices have bled into normal life. Unlike the days of live performance or radio, we can now pause and fastforward through almost any media we consume. We’re also used to communication methods like text, email, and instant messaging, where we don’t need to wait for the other person to finish before we speak. I’d estimate that about half of the people I meet either interrupt regularly or talk so much that they don’t leave pauses for the other person.
These are such basic skills and habits that you’d hope writing a blog post about them wouldn’t be justified– but sadly violating them has become the norm. The good news is that all four are easy enough that anyone can instantly adopt them and stand out from the crowd in his interactions with others. Another one I’ve been thinking of is dressing nicely. Most people dress very similarly to their peers. I guess I do, too, but I dress 99% for function.