In today’s episode of the startup chat, Steli and Hiten talk about why Steli is always looking to understand the person behind the message.

Sometimes when we receive a message, it difficult for us to understand the true meaning of that message. And one of the reasons why we don’t is because we lack context around who the messenger is and why they are saying what they are saying.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about why it’s important to understand the person behind a message, how doing so can help you understand the message better and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:27 Why this topic was chosen.

03:41 Something Hiten and Steli have in common.

04:36 How Hiten researches new people.

05:01 Why Steli researches the people behind a message.

06:37 How Steli can’t respond to a message without context.

07:23 How finding something negative about a person could affect our ability to receive the message.

08:14 Why Hiten likes to understand the person behind the message.

09:20 How understanding the context could help you understand the message better.

10:25 How there are a lot of messages out there in today’s world.

10:42 What understanding a message boils down to.

3 Key Points:

  • We are careful about who we bring into our lives.
  • I’m trying to understand who the person is.
  • I’m much more curious about people than I am about things.



Steli Efti: Hello, this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah and today, at the start of the chat, I’m about to be surprised.



Steli Efti: Yeah, Hiten doesn’t know what we’re going to talk about. The reason for that is that just as we wrapped up the last episode, the recording of it, I remembered a conversation I had and I was like, “Oh, my God. I need to record an episode based on this with Hiten right now.” I think you all will enjoy it. Here’s the topic: Recently, I had a friend visiting me in New York for a few days over the weekend. One thing that happened three times during those three days and then led to a discussion we had, was that, at different points in time, he was telling me about somebody’s content that he enjoyed. So he would say something like, “Oh, do you know so and so?” And I would go, “No, never heard of them.” “Wow, they have amazing YouTube videos about this topic and I’ve watched a few of them and I learned a lot.” So, they would pull up the videos and try to show me those videos or he would try to show me these videos, and my instinctive reaction to that was to go, “All right. Who are these people? What are their backgrounds?” You know, would ask a bunch of questions, not about the content of the video or the person was presenting it, but about the person. Like, “Who is this person? What is their background? Where do they live? What are they working on? Why are they qualified to talk about this? What’s the context behind this?” And he didn’t know, so I would start doing some research on my phone. Very quickly, I’d be like, “Oh, interesting. This person actually, who is giving now these sales negotiation videos on YouTube that are really well-made, but he actually started in the online dating how-to-pickup-artist world.” You know, I did a bit of research. Ah, interesting. A lot of these guys started in the kind of pickup-world and then they learned all about body language and all about influence and manipulation. Then they’d branch off to other stuff. It’s interesting. They always use “charm” in their brand names. It’s like the “charm on demand,” “the art of the charm,” “the charm of this.” Charm is always a key word for people coming from the pickup world. And I kept [inaudible], “Oh, he lives there,” and “He’s done two little things that didn’t work.” “Oh, a startup that didn’t work at all.” And, “Oh, this, no actual sales background in any corporate bank.” And I did, like within 50 minutes, I had a bunch of facts about this person that I could research. This happened three different times about three different things. So another time, it was a book recommendation. “Oh, I read this book and it was really brilliant.” I was like, “Oh, cool. What did you learn in the book? Who’s the author? What’s their background?” And again, I did a bit of research and learned all these things about them.” Then, my friend eventually went, “You know, I never realized this about you, but this is actually really true. You go really deep on trying to understand the people in your life or the people in business. You don’t just look at what they’re doing. You don’t just look at their company or at their book or video or podcast or latest piece of content. You don’t just evaluate the content on itself. You’re trying to understand the percent of context around where this person’s coming from, where they acquired that knowledge, how credible it is.” And in some situations, I could say, “This video is amazingly produced and they’ve done all these things really right, but the content itself is actually bullshit. And I disagree with it.” He’s like, “You’re really, you’re different in that way.” And I know that one thing we have in common, Heaton, is the deep focus of people in our life, right? We put people at the center of everything we do, right?



Hiten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: People are really the way we solve all our problems or the way we enrich our lives. It’s always selecting amazing humans or bringing the right type of humans into our lives. So I wanted to talk a little bit about how we do research on people or how we try to understand people, and how you do this and how you evaluate this. I just though it was an interesting discussion. And honestly, up until last weekend when he brought this up, I didn’t do this consciously. I didn’t notice that this was a pattern where, when I encountered somebody new, a person of authority and somebody new, that I would instantly go into this deep type of research and try to understand who they are; what their background is, what the contexts of the knowledge they’re sharing or the success they’re having right now, instead of just evaluating the piece of content on face value. I don’t know, I said a lot. I’m curious to hear your thoughts, the way you approach this. I felt this would make for an interesting episode.



Hiten Shah: Yeah, I mean look. Why don’t you tell me why this is so interesting to you? Why is it interesting for you to dig into the people behind the message? Because that’s what I call it, right? Everyone’s got a message. There’s a YouTuber, there’s a person writing some content. Why do you do that? What are you trying to do?



Steli Efti: I think that I’m trying to understand who the person is. It might be that I can … To me, it’s hard to evaluate your information or your actions or your words or even your result. It’s very hard for me to evaluate them, to understand them or to use them in a vacuum. I have the need to understand the context around it and who these people are and how they’ve gotten to where they are, in order to now have your words or your actions in the context of a bigger picture, to now be able to really understand. For me, I need the context, I need the story behind the people before I can receive the message. And before I can have a response to the message, I need to understand the context behind the people there. I don’t know why. It’s something that I’ve been doing. I mean, my whole life, I’ve been fascinated by people and once I started reading a lot, I started to always, when I heard about somebody, I would try to read all the books about them. If I find them fascinating or interesting for some reason, I would read like four, five, six books about a certain person to really try to dig deep and understand who they were and what really happened and what the context is of them behind their life. I don’t know why I have that deep need to understand people or why I’m so curious about people. I’m much more curious about people than I am about things, in many ways.



Hiten Shah: Yes, same here.



Steli Efti: So, I don’t know. But I know that, like-



Hiten Shah: I like that.



Steli Efti: I know that I definitely, if you tell me, “Here’s a strategy,” maybe I’m inflexible in that sense, but I can’t respond to that message in and of itself. I will have the need to understand the person behind the message, to then go back, look at the message and go, “Hm, how do I evaluate this?” That’s another thing that we figured out with my friend. He figured out that when, a lot of times, he doesn’t do the research because if he does the research … Like one thing that he’s found out about himself in this conversation is that if he finds something about the person that he dislikes or doesn’t respect, he will not be able to receive the message or do anything with it, even if it’s actually a positive one. He thought it was interesting that, to me, that is not the case. I could find out things about you that I find despicable and horrible. And I could think you were a terrible human being and I could then still go back to your message and go, “That message still is good,” or “I can still learn something from that message.” But I still need to evaluate you to understand the entire picture. I honestly don’t know why.



Hiten Shah: I’m the same. I don’t have a problem learning something about somebody that might be negative or whatever and then still, without judgment, taking the message and seeing if it’s good for me. But I do like to understand where someone’s coming from. I think my take on this is like, if I hear something or know that someone has this content or this thing, and they’re sharing it and it’s good or appears to be good, or someone shared it with me and there’s a bunch of it, I like to really know a lot more about the person behind the message, just to understand where they’re coming from. For me, I think that helps me understand, contextually, where their message is even coming from. Like, why does Gary Vee keep talking about hustling? Why?



Steli Efti: Yeah, is he-



Hiten Shah: Does it have something to do with where he grew up and when he grew up and what he did as a child? Probably.



Steli Efti: Probably, yeah.



Hiten Shah: If I could go figure that out about him, that helps me understand the context of Gary Vee. Simple as that.



Steli Efti: Right.



Hiten Shah: Right? And this is someone who’s very loud about something very specific. Right?



Steli Efti: Right.



Hiten Shah: So to me, it’s that simple. If I really get into somebody or something, to understand it or even if someone mentions something, I try to explain that. I was talking to somebody … I’ve talked to people multiple times about Gary Vee and what I’m able to do is explain to them his context just because I feel like they should have it. If they have it, they might understand the person better. They might even understand, more importantly, the message better. So that’s important, I think, to think through and see what works for you. I really like what you said about your friend realizing that if he or she or whatever, looks into the person, they’re unable to actually move forward if they find something they don’t like. And then, they just miss the message completely. It’s good to know that about yourself. It’s really good to know that about yourself because if you are like that, then you might not want to look into those people until you are not like that or whatever. I think this is an important topic simply because the way we’re consuming information these days tends to be from messages from other people; whether it’s video or texts, whether it’s email or an email newsletter or tweet storm or a Facebook message or an Instagram post or whatever and just understanding what’s behind that. Or even a story on Instagram is probably the newest, best way right now. It’s useful. It’s really useful because in the world that we live in today, there are a lot of messages out there. Some of them are similar. Some of them are not and understand the people behind them can give you a much different perspective on the message.



Steli Efti: Yeah, I love that. I really think it boils down to trying to have the proper context or value of the message in and of itself and try to understand what you can truly learn from somebody. I think the context of why they say something actually matters. Even if it’s a very similar message, you have two different people that they … You pick up on a similar message on both of them, but they have lived drastically different lives. It’s interesting because you can then put it in a context of why they’re sharing this message. What is their drive and motivation for it? How deep does their knowledge and experience go in this area or how surface level is it? That helps, both to learn what to take away from the message, but also how much more you’re going to want to dig into learning from this person or how you’re going to be learning from this person. I think a lot of times, most people, now that I think about this, that I interact with, even when we’re talking about people that we’ve all read a lot about and know a lot about, it seems that I usually have a lot more detailed information about these people. The reason is that, a) I’m very curious, but b) I really want to understand who you are and where you’re coming from and how you’ve arrived at this message, to be able to maximize my learnings versus just getting the end result from you without the kind of, how you got here. Like, how did you get to this idea, this thought or this message. And yeah, he was actually mind blown. When he realized this about himself, he was like, “You know, Steli, when I first picked up on this, the way you do research about people, I was like, ‘Wow, this is so inspiring. I need to do this, too, myself. And now that I realize what consequences would come from that, I’m like, I’m not ready for this. Like, I’m not ready to do this research because I’m going to find something I don’t like about all these people and then I can’t learn anything.'” “‘He was like, ‘Huh, this is … ‘ He’s like, ‘And now I have to kind of unfuck myself on this topic trying to figure out how to get better at learning from people, even if I don’t fully agree with their entire life story and with everything they’ve done.'” It was just interesting for both of us to discover some things about ourselves. This is the thing that I’ve been doing so much my entire life and I’ve never really thought about in those terms. I didn’t even notice that I instantly go to deep dive research on the person. It’s just habitual at this point. I don’t even think about it. It’s almost subconscious. I can spend an hour researching you and that hour is like … Although it was just a thought in my mind and then I just move on. But it just goes back so quickly and it’s so instinctual, it’s interesting. All right, maybe and hopefully, this was an interesting episode for people. It was definitely one of the more, kind of not straightforward ones, but the one that we kind of unpack our own thoughts and what’s going on as we talk to each other. I always love these ones. As always, if you enjoyed this, please give us a five star review. We highly appreciate it, on iTunes. And also, if you have any thoughts about how you do research on people, how you look behind the person behind the message or anything else; any other thought or self-reflection that you want to share with us, we always love to hear from you. Steli@closeio, Until next time, we’ll be here very soon.



Hiten Shah: See you.