In the last few weeks we’ve all seen and/or experienced devastating horrors — people killing, maiming and mistreating one another. We’ve felt fear and shock and heartbreak as well as courage and empathy.
No matter where we live or what our work is, we can influence where we go from here. In fact, it is up to each one of us.
President Obama, Dallas Police Chief David Brown and many others propose that we need more conversations where people listen to one another, “talking honestly and openly,” about the issues that are causing the turbulence. Some have said that minority communities and the police specifically need to talk. Yes, that is important. Police Chief Brown also said, discerningly, that police are being asked to do too much.
Therefore, I’m inviting us all to step back even further to take another perspective on what is occurring, what is possible and the role we all play. We have a culture where many people aren’t skillful at talking honestly and openly about numerous subjects.
Many of us spend most of our waking hours working at a job in an organization or in an entrepreneurial activity. We work with other people all day long. Every conversation impacts the other person or persons. We learn the “acceptable” way to communicate and behave by how we relate to others and how others relate to us.
“We are what we repeatedly do.”
Many organizations have inadvertently created cultures where people don’t communicate well with one another. One example is organizations in which departments become what are called silos. During my 29 plus years of coaching executives, managers and others in organizations, I have often heard about the lack of sincere communication and appreciation for others’ points of view.
I personally experienced this in an organization where I worked. I was told when hired that, among other things, they were very interested in my successful implementation of a specific model relating to customer service. However, in spite of numerous offers on my part to share, they never listened. I felt underutilized, hurt and misled. I will accept responsibility for these feelings; they probably did not intend these consequences. However, for many of us, the experience of not being seen or listened to is palpable. And, when that is repeated during the eight- to ten-hour work day, people carry it home, thereby perpetuating that way of relating.
People learn how to be citizens of the world in our organizations.
The job, of course, needs to get done. And, if we include a focus on the relationship, we can appreciate that what is actually happening is that unique human beings are working together to accomplish something. There is intimacy when two or more people offer ideas and coordinate actions, in order to contribute something of themselves to the world.
Efforts to heal our current toxic situations don’t have a chance in a culture where we regularly avoid real communication and attempts at understanding one another. This is a cultural and relationship issue. It’s about who we are for each other and how we want to live together. The incidents we are witnessing are not unrelated problems “over there”. They are symptoms, albeit colossal symptoms, of the underlying cultural issues we have. We’re actually all in this together.
We have good reasons for this lack of authentic communication: we’re busy, it’s uncomfortable, we’re not very good at it. But, we’re seeing that the world can’t wait any longer for us to find the time or to hope that the politicians fix things or that someone else finds a solution to all these problems. There are no solutions to be found out there. There is no one else. It’s each one of us, all day long, and how we interact with others. This is not a problem to be solved; it’s a culture and a way of relating that needs to be created.
We’ll actually get more done, enjoy it more and make more money as we practice caring about the person we’re with and listening. We’re all human beings hoping to matter, to make a difference, to be valued and to be respected.
None of this means people can’t be challenged or that there never should be disagreements. We can be constructive, curious and compassionate during difficult times. Skills and ways of being might have to be developed. It is up to each one of us to create a better world for us all and for those who come after us, while honoring those who came before.
Without us living and working together in the way I’m suggesting, right now, we ask others, such as the police and minority communities, to carry the burden. But it’s not up to them.
After a hurricane, people who don’t live in the area send supplies, financial support or other aid of some sort. In this case, our “aid” to the world’s trouble spots is how we are with each other all day long. We have access to all we need to carry out this mission: our ability to be aware, to choose and to be curious. At the end of this piece you will find an exercise that utilizes these capacities to enrich our relationships.
It’s not easy or simple. It will be messy. We all experience annoyances, judgments and frustrations – toward others as well as with ourselves. Relating to each other, and to ourselves, in a more meaningful and understanding way that leads to the better world we’d like to live in, won’t happen overnight. We may not see it in our lifetimes. Yet, through our actions in each present moment, we create that future. We have incredible potential to impact every human being we connect with in a meaningful way.
We change the world one interaction and one relationship at a time.
“The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he is born.”
– William Ralph Inge
It is our legacy. Future generations will know.
If you would like to enhance your conversations, whether they already reflect the world in which you would like to live, or they could use improvement, this exercise is a good place to start.
Self-Observation Exercise: Steps to Enriching Conversations
The way to begin any change effort is to become aware of what you are doing and what you are focusing on as you’re doing the doing. That way, you can make choices that align with what you truly want to experience with another person. What you focus on depends on what you think, the emotions you feel and the physical sensations of your body. And, the action you take is a result of what you are focusing on.
This exercise is useful to enrich any relationship, personal or professional.
Practice this exercise consistently for at least two weeks.
- For purposes of this exercise, you want to think of yourself as two people: one person who is doing what you do and saying what you say, and the other person, also you, who is observing you as you do and say what you do and say.
- During three meetings or conversations that you have with people each day, try to observe what is going on for you during these situations in light of the following questions.
- What did you feel (emotionally and physically) as you connected with the person?
- What did you say?
- How did you determine what to say?
- How did the other person respond to what you said?
- What did you feel at the end of the conversation?
- At the end of the day, bring to mind the conversations and take note of what you observed. You might want to write down your observations.
- What patterns do you notice?
- What are you learning about yourself that you didn’t know before?
- What new actions will you take based on what you observed?