Be Approachable

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The most open and approachable people I know always seem to have a smile on their face. Is this an accident or is it a skill that must be learned?

Many years ago, I knew a couple who owned a small dry cleaning and tailor shop. The shop was within walking distance of a train station. They were good people who worked hard and had big American dreams. In the course of their work, a few well-known and several not so famous customers entered their front door for the most basic of reasons: to get a seam mended or a stain removed.

One day, a man walked into the shop, which the couple immediately recognized. He had a popular television show on PBS, a separate news show, was a New York Times best-selling author, radio commentator and had a cameo role in a movie. When he entered the shop on that first day, and for many years after, he had a broad smile on his face and chatted with the man and his wife as if they were old friends.


Something In “Common”

I won’t embellish and turn their story into a close friendship, but I will share that  “the star” and the tailors always took the time to share a bit about their lives. The personality gave them autographed books, and he talked about his family, his upcoming shows and little tidbits about the New York media. He was genuinely interested in the couple, their thoughts and the lives of their children.

The critical point here is that this man, this extraordinarily busy person allowed himself to be open to life. He was interested in others, not just himself. He was approachable and realized that every one of us has something to share.

Indeed, one day he announced that he was writing a book about the war years. He was quite interested in the fact that the tailor had served in civil defense, and his wife worked in an aircraft plant riveting the B-17 bomber. The conversation they had with the personality about their experiences in WWII were recalled again and again to friends and relatives. The bestselling author and television celebrity made them feel important, because to his mind, they were.

Decades after the man was no longer in the public eye, his former news and entertainment colleagues were quick to point out that he was a joy to work with and never put up walls. They said that he was not the type to maintain a power struggle. He never looked down on people who were what society might deem as being “common.” It should come as no surprise that he was never embroiled in controversy or scandal.


No Such Thing As “I’m Just…”

When you meet a stranger, how do you think you’re perceived? It is an interesting question that we don’t often ask ourselves. Are we approachable? Do we smile and try to be friendly or do strangers intimidate us so that we’re stand-offish? Do we automatically reject others, thinking they are too different or too self-important or are frightening because they may not act or even look like we do? What a shame it is to hide our light.

On some occasions, I’ve encountered people who will start to describe themselves by saying “I’m just…” Meaning, I’m just a receptionist, or I’m just a retired teacher. I believe that kind of qualifier is used because many of us feel that our lives are too small or that we’re unimportant and as a result, we will bore or not be interesting to others. Instead of being approachable, smiling and open, we close down before they get a chance to know us.

Suppose the receptionist is, in fact, a well-respected collegiate women’s fast-pitch umpire? Suppose the retired teacher is the state fair’s reigning blue ribbon champion for apple pie? I’m not trying to be silly here, instead, I am suggesting that we all have an inner light that others want to experience and enjoy. When we allow our inner light to shine, it never fails to cause a glow that translates into an approachable smile.

One of the great pieces of advice regarding foreign travel I’ve ever been given is that the most important skill you can cultivate is the smile. No matter the language barrier, or the country, as long as there is a smile on your face, you’re inviting people to like you and you, in turn, are welcoming them into your world. There is a beauty to being open to life. Being open will always open closed doors.

Deep down, the most approachable thing about you is you. Don’t hide. Be approachable!



For more information about Hall of Fame speaker and bestselling author Steve Gilliland and the Gilliland Foundation, please contact steve@stevegilliland.com / 724-540-5019 / www.stevegilliland.com.