The Key to Winning People Over -- A Lesson From the Mayor of Seoul

Whatever stage of life, position, or industry you are in, you know that people run everything. Companies, institutions, governments, firms, whatever that may come to mind--even the smallest of groups--are all run by people. Remember when Steve Jobs talked about how life is all made up of people no smarter than you?

With the countless greetings and introductions, supplemented by a mountain of business cards, it may be hard to keep track of everyone you meet. Even harder is following up with everyone you meet and trying to maintain those connections that were made through a handshake and a short conversation that probably lasted no more than five minutes.

Waiting for the conference to begin..

Waiting for the conference to begin..

This Monday (September 22), I attended the 2014 Financial Hub Seoul Conference, a conference co-hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the Financial Supervisory Service, and the Korea Society. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon took the podium to present Seoul as a global financial hub to almost two hundred financial executives and investors. I, as an intern for the development/external affairs division of The Korea Society, worked on organizing the event itself and was present at the conference to assist with registration and escorting the VIP guests.

VIP Luncheon

VIP Luncheon

Mayor Park Won-soon addressing guests at the VIP Luncheon

Mayor Park Won-soon addressing guests at the VIP Luncheon

After the luncheon, Mayor Park Won-soon was exchanging greetings with the other VIPs in the room (many of them were senior executives of global consulting firms, international banks, and political figures). A long line formed to greet the mayor, and he was on his way out of the room after countless greetings when I walked up to him, smartphone in hand.

"Hello, I'm a student studying in New York. Could I get a picture with you?"

Seoul government employees were trying to persuade the mayor to leave the room for his next event (he had an interview with the Wall Street Journal right after), when the mayor stopped in front of me. Stretching his hand, he slightly grabbed my name tag on my jacket to take a closer look.

"Tae Young, are you an intern here? You live in Seoul?"

Surprised at his question, I immediately responded, "Yes, my parents are in Seoul and I am here attending university."  The mayor then smiled, tapping me on the shoulders and saying, "Great job, working hard away from home." My "Could I get a picture with you?" was greeted by an immediate "Of course, of course," and he let me stand next to him.

Picture was taken right when the mayor was about to say something... bad timing :( but a photo nonetheless!

Picture was taken right when the mayor was about to say something... bad timing :( but a photo nonetheless!

After thanking him for the photo, I quickly said "I will see you at the conference in the afternoon!" He smiled, gave me a nod, and walked away with his staff to his next interview.

During that 10-15 second personal interaction with the mayor, it felt exactly that--personal. For those few seconds that we exchanged words, I could feel that the mayor's complete attention was on me. I was a college student helping out with an event attended by financial corporate executives holding global influence, but the mayor gave me the same degree of attention as he did with anyone else in the room. I can point out exactly what the mayor did in those few seconds that captivated my attention and respect:

1. Hold eye contact

The mayor, from start to finish, looked straight into my eyes as he spoke. Sometimes, when meeting someone for the first time, it can be quite awkward to look right into the other person's eyes so many of us tend to look elsewhere. However, looking into the other person's eyes shows him or her that you are not only acknowledging their presence, but also giving all of your attention. 

2. Ask questions about the other person

"Are you an intern here? and you live in Seoul?" The mayor asked me two questions that were both about me, and both were derived from inferences he made from seeing me for a few seconds. Asking questions is the best way to start a conversation, and it also helps others to talk about themselves (who doesn't like doing that?).

3. Use humor

As soon as I stood next to the mayor to get a picture taken, he jokingly said, "People who take pictures with me tend to run for the national assembly (as a political representative)," as if he was saying that I would run for office in the future because I took a picture with him. Everyone around us laughed, and it made the mayor seem much more human than just a political figure--after the picture was taken, he smiled and tapped me on the shoulder again.

Politics aside, the mayor gained my respect (much more than I had previously!) in that short moment when I was able to personally interact with him. The mayor used the three methods mentioned above to truly make it a personal interaction, and he made me feel much more welcomed and at ease. Through that short moment, I learned that authenticity, and paying close attention to the person in front of you, really helps in winning a person over.

Tae Young WooComment