Don’t let today’s (or last week’s) news bring you down. Yes, what we hear feels frustrating, exhausting and sad. These are challenging times and we are here to deal with that, together. (This is a great time to polish your thought leadership.)
No matter how daunting, or even how far away these events are, you can always make things better where you are. You can use your words to add kindness, intelligence, patience and understanding, or to subtract them. Your choices can make things better or worse.
Lashing out at the stupidity and ignorance with anger is tempting, (as in “Where do these idiots come from?”) but it doesn’t help. I tried it.
The thing is to focus on being helpful where you are right here, right now.
Two specific actions that can help build relationships with the people you work with, regardless of ideological alignment or lack thereof:
- Unexpected acts of kindness.
An unexpected positive gesture can make someone’s day and always has a ripple effect. You don’t have to spend your day at a homeless shelter….although that would be lovely. Leave an extra generous tip to your hairdresser or waiter.
Send a card. Call someone just to say “hello.”
Do something extra for a faithful client.
2. Ask meaningful questions.
“How can you be so dumb?” is not quite right.
Asking questions, even if the answers given are subpar, give you a way to deal with know-it-alls and other people whose actions and attitudes puzzle you.
What is a meaningful question?
Meaningful questions can unlock deeper, more helpful information. Meaningful conversations bring people together.
Ask “why” or “what makes” multiple times.
It works for children of all ages. It deepens the level of a conversation to make it more interesting and meaningful.
Example: If you ask a person why they like open-water swimming, she responds “because it’s a good escape,” you can then ask, “What makes you feel like you need an escape?” If she answers because her job is stressful, you can follow up with “What makes your job stressful?” Repeated “Why” or “What makes” questions can turn a simple question about a superficial topic into a much deeper conversation.
Ask about specifics, not generalizations.
Specific is terrific.
Questions about specifics gets you away from generic boring answers.
Example: Instead of asking “How was your day?” drill down and ask, “What was the best part of your day?”
Ask about emotional reactions. #emotionalintelligence
Frame questions around a person’s emotional reactions to life situations — what surprised them, challenged them, or changed their viewpoint.
Example: Instead of asking “What’s it like to be a project manager?” ask “What’s the most surprising/annoying/disturbing thing for you as a project manager?”
Ask about lessons learned.
If your goal is to learn from somebody, the most direct path is to ask them what they’ve learned.
Example: Ask questions like, “What did you learn from working on that project?,” “What do you wish you knew before you started working with that team?,” and “What advice would you have for others who want to get into your industry?”
Ask for a story.
The most interesting information is found in stories, so ask questions to help people to tell you one.
Example: Don’t ask, “What’s it like to be a teacher?” Instead, ask “What’s a crazy thing that happened to you in a classroom?”
Ask about obsessions
You may be with someone you feel you have NOTHING in common with. Not true! Start talking obsessions and the ice will melt.
We love our obsessions and that’s a big part of who we really are (like lemon anything, Lord of the Rings, Jason Bourne, Nespresso…) If this theme interests you, check out the free #brandyou challenge.
Ask ‘How can we?’
Instead of focusing on why something is happening, direct your questions to solutions mode.
Example: Don’t ask, “Why do we need to offer this service when we’re already stretched too thin?” Rather, ask “How can we offer this service to pleasantly surprise our clients, even though we’re stretched too far?”
My friend and colleague, Liz Guthridge, wrote this excellent article on facilitating real conversations about contentious (but hugely important) topics. She shares how James Damore might have gotten his point across without losing his job. It’s easy to think “They won’t let me say anything” but the reality is you can talk about anything if your approach is empathetic and mindful of other viewpoints.
We’re not facing food shortages, the Bubonic Plague, the War of Roses or the Gulag Archipelago. We have our own issues of marginalization, isolation, division and disillusionment. It’s up to us to make things better where we are. That’s why we’re here.