by Vince Fabra
As I work with fraternity/sorority members around the country now that I’ve started traveling for Phired Up, I find myself explaining a concept called “GET OUT OF THE MIDDLE.”
In some cases, being in the middle isn’t so bad. Being the “middle man” allows you to connect two groups. Being the “middle spoon” is the warmest sleeping position possible. Even hump day can be the motivation you need, letting you know you’re in the middle of your week. However, with regards to Social Excellence, a conversation, or a presentation should never be in the middle.
The middle is the home of every conversation/presentation that you have painfully sat through. The Middle is bland. The Middle is unintentional. The Middle asks the easy questions and presents with no energy. The Middle is not Socially Excellent.
Allow me to give more apparent examples of what “The Middle” looks like. If you were trying to learn about a potential new member, there are the “standard” questions that fraternities and sororities have been asking for ages. These questions just ooze Middle-ness:
“Where are you from?” “What is your major?” “What year are you?” “What do you think about rush so far?” “What other chapters are you checking out?” “What did you do in high school?” “Do you like parties/beer/girls/guys/Coca-Cola/Pepsi/Redbox/Netflix/The Hills/The City…?” (Or any other lame topic of conversation that you can think of).
Plenty of Greeks find themselves stuck in The Middle.
Example: You are telling me about how great your chapter is by listing off dates and facts. “In 2003, we won best chapter on our campus.” “We have the best intramural inner tube water polo team for the past three years.” “We care about grades because our members log five hours a week in monitored study halls.” (Those are some really inspiring statistics).
You say that you love your organization, but your body language and tone convey a message that sounds about as excited as an IRS auditor.
If you want the people you’re talking with to be inspired or at least have a memorable conversation that distinguishes you from the other groups on campus, then GET OUT OF THE MIDDLE.
What is your spark? What is the switch that flips in your head that makes you stand up, do a little happy dance, and say “See ya later, Middle.” Individual answers may vary. But when you find your spark, flip your switch, there are two places — two zones — that provide a Socially Excellent alternative to The Middle.
The Deep Zone, although it sounds like the newest pizza from Domino’s, is actually a mindset that allows you to evoke more meaningful responses from people you are trying to learn about. The Deep Zone is personal. The Deep Zone is intimate. The Deep Zone generously asks curious questions, getting authentic and vulnerable responses (all 4 social excellence pillars used casually in one sentence). The Deep Zone is Socially Excellent.
Deep Zone questions are open ended, probing questions. Here are 10 examples of questions that live in the Deep Zone.
- Tell me a little about yourself. (As opposed to “Middle” question rapid fire).
- What are you hoping to get out of your college/fraternity/sorority experience?
- (If he or she mentions that they are the oldest/youngest/only child) What was it like growing up as the oldest/youngest/only child?
- Who is someone that you really admire?
- (Probing statements like) Tell me more about that. OR. Help me better understand that.
- What are some things you are very passionate about?
- Tell me about a proud moment or accomplishment of yours.
- What are you reading to make you better?
- When are you most comfortable to be yourself?
- Are there any questions that you have for me?
Simply asking these questions will not have anyone in tears, giving you hugs, or feeling like you have touched their lives. However, if you ask these questions and actively listen, I promise you will make a stronger connection than you would have camping in Middle-ville state park.
For those of you who read the Deep Zone questions and thought, “No Freakin way” (I am looking at you “too cool” frat dude), then the Fun Zone may be your preferred area. The Fun Zone produces the types of conversations that others hear from a distance and run over to join. The Fun Zone is energetic. The Fun Zone is bold. The Fun Zone makes a group of strangers feel like a group of old buddies. The Fun Zone is Socially Excellent.
Fun Zone questions are clever and get fun answers. Here are 10 examples of questions that live in the Fun Zone.
- What is the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
- What is the coolest scar that you have and how did you get it?
- What is the worst date you have ever been on?
- Would you rather live without music or sports (I love this question)?
- Who is one celebrity that you would love to punch in the face?
- If you had to get a tattoo on your face, what would it be?
- If you went to Krispy Kreme, and they served you a box full of $5,000 in cash instead of donuts, would you bring it back or keep it (this is a true story)?
- What is your most embarrassing moment?
- If you were going to build a man cave, what would you put in it?
- When was the last time you laughed so hard you peed your pants?
I hope that everyone understands that these aren’t questions that you just check off a list, and get magical results. You still have to engage others in the conversation while being the most Socially Excellent version of yourself.
If you want to have fun and actually enjoy the draining, boring process that formal recruitment can sometimes be, you will need to energize yourselves with great conversations. Trust me, if you have hundreds of conversations that are in The Middle, then you and your organization will not be successful, you will not enjoy yourself, and the people you converse with will wonder, “What the hell is wrong with that guy/girl?”
I can only think of one thing to close this blog post. GET OUT OF THE MIDDLE!!!