Seems like if we’d just ask…and listen…

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“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

          –     Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955), German-born theoretical physicist

Yes, every life has a story, if we’ll only read it. And just as a book must be opened to get to the story, so must a conversation that brings connection between us and those we lead, love or rely upon.

Lawyers, HR and other influences have made it more complicated to really connect at work, to know the total person, not just the worker or the job, but it’s no less important.  Buckingham and Clifton, two decades ago, identified and quantified the connection between “having a best friend at work” and engagement, fulfillment, performance and retention.  Arguably, really connecting, no matter how complicated it has become is more important than ever in a society where “connecting” means something very different than a “like” or retweet on social media.

A mentor of mine had an interesting (and candidly sometimes really annoying) way of illustrating the point.  Long before social media, when he’d meet someone in the hallway, he’d say (as we all do), “Hi, Steve, how are you doing?”  Steve would say, “I’m doing well, thanks.”  Roger would sometimes stop and say, “No.  I mean REALLY.  HOW ARE YOU DOING?  WHAT’S NEW?  WHAT’S HAPPENING IN YOUR LIFE?”

Unless we really want to know, a) we shouldn’t ask and b) we have no reason to expect others to want to connect with us.

Einstein was passionately curious.  I feel like I’m pretty passionately curious.  The challenge is to decide what we’ll be curious about, and choosing to be curious about others and their stories.

Going back to our list of the people most critical to a scenario in our lives right now — work, family, school, sports, whatever it might be — are we passionately curious about what their story is?  Do we genuinely want to know how they’re thinking, feeling and seeing things?  Do we want them to say, “Things are well, thanks,” or do we want them to say, “Hey, let’s grab a cup and talk.  I’ve got some things on my mind…”?

That CFO that doesn’t understand what’s going on in the market?  Maybe she’s scared of what it means for her pension or her kids’ college plans.  That sales pro that has no patience?  Maybe he’s one deal from winning the Chairman’s Club trip, or maybe he’s one deal away from losing his home?  Maybe either or both of them are facing an illness, their own or someone they love.  Maybe, maybe, maybe….if only we’d ask, and then really listen, we’d be able to read their story, and understand how it might color their position on the matter at hand.

Tomorrow, how we respond matters, too…


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