After a recent post about our move to Nashville, a former business partner picked up the phone to say, "I want to tell you my story about a professional and personal decision that many people in my life didn't understand." I hadn't seen this person in years, and it sent my heart soaring that she initiated our re-connection in this way. After we discussed her story, she came back to the topic of Nashville, expressing how much she loved the food and people during her few visits. She described its inhabitants as "active citizens" and gave me some examples.
Even before her prompt, I had started to observe subtle thoughtfulness and intentional conversations around me. And of course now that I'm actively looking for proof, I'm finding it tucked into every corner of the city. One conversation in particular that I observed rocked my world. I mean that very seriously. It was the most beautiful interaction I've ever witnessed between a parent and child. And while these two family members are the characters in this story, it would have been equally as touching between any two people, and it has HUGE implications on how we work with others. Here it is...
A mother and her child were out to breakfast to celebrate the child's graduation from elementary school (meaning about 12 years old). About halfway through their meal, the young, hip-looking mother looks at her child and says,
"I want to tell you something. Right before we left your graduation this morning, your teacher pulled me aside to tell me how much she enjoyed having you in her class. She told me that throughout the year, she'd step back to watch you interact with the other kids because she loved watching you treat everyone as individual people by looking at them, listening to them, and respecting them. I want you to know that I am so proud of you for being that kind of human.
<Child sheepishly looks into plate of pancakes>
Do you understand why I'm proud of you?
The most important thing is for people to feel seen and heard. When you treat each person individually with attention and respect, they feel seen and heard by you. Being seen and heard by another human is the most important thing in the world."
WOW, right? I've re-imagined this scene repeatedly keep thinking how right my colleague is: I do live among active citizens in my new hometown.
I've been thinking about when I do and don't act like this 12 year old - in my personal and professional relationships.
How many of our colleagues, clients, bosses, and subordinates feel seen and heard by us? Although I try hard to be present and personal, I'm great at it sometimes and fail other times. Occasionally, I unintentionally push my point too far because I'm nervous or ask leading questions because I'm scared that the conversation will awkwardly halt. On the other hand, sometimes I intentionally don't acknowledge colleagues who humble-brag or possess overly needy egos. (BTW - this isn't advice.. just admitting my own faults and style)!
I've recently decided that the infamous "It's not personal, it's business" is never true; there is always something personal at stake for someone in the exchange. Therefore, being someone who makes others feel seen and heard remains a hard-to-come-by quality that will make you stand out as an exceptional human in any situation.
As Oprah, one of the most influential business people in the world, says,
“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show,
and all 30,000 had one thing in common:
They all wanted validation. If I could reach through the television and
sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that
every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know:
‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’"
Photo from Mothermag