[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
A couple of my Communications Skills Exercises begin with asking people what their passion is, including “Meaningful connection” and “How to make someone feel understood: confirm and let them correct you“, both tremendously effective yet simple and easy exercises.
Many people ask “What if the person doesn’t have any passions?” Some people I start these exercises with say they have no passions.
Today I’ll show how to get past such challenges. As usual, it involves belief and behavior.
Belief: Everyone has passions, they care about something
First, start by believing everyone has passions. They care about something. They might hide that they care and what they care about, maybe even from themselves, but they care.
Do I know for a fact that everyone has passions? Can I prove it? No, but I’ve never found it false, at least not for these exercises. I think I know why people hide or don’t know that they care about things. People have been hurt, embarrassed, ashamed, used, and so forth for things they care about. Some people shared things they cared about as kids and were made fun of them. Other times people who found out what they cared about used them for their passions for their own benefit. Most of us learned to keep our powerful emotions inside to protect ourselves from feeling hurt, embarrassed, ashamed, used, and so forth. This perspective gives you compassion, which usually helps people feel comfortable with you, which helps them open up, which helps them realize their passions.
Behavior: What to say when they say they have no passions
When someone says they have no passion, first I’ll politely persist with a slightly softer question.”
“What’s a passion of yours? … besides family and your work or movies and music?”
“Passions? I don’t have any passions.”
“Oh, I’ve heard people say that before. But they always care about something. What’s something you care about more than other things or more than most other people do?”
People usually respond with something here—their dogs or cats, some hobby they work on, etc. Then you can continue the above exercises from there.
Sometimes people resist even this lesser question. Like they’ll say they don’t care about anything. Saying something like that is just resistance that even they know they’re making up. Then I get down to the basics. I don’t lose my compassion, remembering they probably learned from painful experience not to share. I don’t know what that experience was, but it’s probably keeping them from opening up.
“No I don’t even care about anything.”
“Well, you got out of bed this morning. You aren’t just lying in bed waiting to die. Something motivated you.”
Words along these have always gotten people to share about something. I might try to make things more explicit by reminding them about something they had to do today or some day recently that they had to put effort into, noting they didn’t have to if they didn’t care. They start to realize they care about some things more than others. I might add something like
“You at least care about some things more than others. Even if something isn’t a passion, at least what are some things you care about more than others.”
While I may sound like I’m going to get low-level things they don’t care much about, in practice what they give me ends up more than enough to work with for the rest of the exercise. That is, what they share ends up something they care about enough to create great conversation in “Meaningful connection” and “How to make someone feel understood: confirm and let them correct you“.
My most extreme case
While doing the exercises, the above dialog always got them sharing, in one seminar someone I was describing the exercises to kept insisting, “What if they still don’t share anything. What if they keep insisting they have a completely passionless life?” I wonder if they were the parent of a teenager trying to affect being cool or disaffected or something like that.
I said, “Then that’s a passion! … If they’re trying that hard not to show any emotion, then they’re putting a lot of effort into something. You can work with that.”
As I wrote above, I’ve never gotten to that point in conversation, but I stand by that point. People all have emotions and some emotions motivate them more than others. Those are their passions, or at least will lead to great conversation about their passions.
You, if you think you’re passionless.
If you think you have no passions, you at least have things you like. The more you acknowledge and work with them, the more passion you’ll create in your life. I wrote about this perspective in my post “You don’t find passion, you create it.”
Read my weekly newsletter
Subscribe for a weekly update of musings on leadership, the environment, and burpees.