The other day, at drinks after visiting a company, I chatted with some of the team. The star topic of conversation was an unpopular manager – someone said: “He’s a good guy, but someone really needs to tell him how broken his approach to management is.” It didn’t seem like anyone at the table was willing, yet everyone seemed to nod their head in agreement.
The next morning, half asleep on the plane home, I wondered what conversations go on around me, about me – the information I need to know, that no one is willing to tell me. What stupid avoidable things do I constantly do? What hurtful, frustrating behaviors do I have that I don’t even know about? I wondered how much better or more self-aware a person I’d be if I could hear just a fraction of the things I needed to hear, but never heard.
There’s a potential energy circling around all of us, of the things we need to hear that will change our minds, but never get the chance.
I wrote a short list of ways to try and get more of that energy:
- Ask for it. Everyone I know probably has advice they’d like to share, but don’t think I want to hear it. If I ask for it I’ll push some of that potential energy over the tipping point. I just have to be able to graciously handle all of the difficult things they might say.
- Reward those who give it. I have a handful of friends who will tell me the things no one else will say. I’d like to have more friends like this, but they’re rare and hard to find. I need to make sure I go out of my way to express how important this quality is to me – and reward people for it. I think I’ve lost some friends for not honoring what they gave me.
- Act on it. If someone goes out on a limb, risking friendships or work relationships to express something, and then see nothing happen, they’re unlikely to take that risk again. But if I can act on what they say, even in some small way, then I’ve built a connection with them that they’ll use the next time around.
- Make a pact. It can work best to be reciprocate – I’ll tell you if you tell me. Not every relationship can survive this kind of honesty, but having a pact in place to try and tell the other person what they should hear puts a useful tool in place. You can say, at any time “hey, remember that pact we made about telling each other stuff? And listening without getting mad” which helps soften the blow. And of course if the other guy gets pissed off and throws a chair at you, you’ll know it’s time to give up on the pact and find a new friend (or improve your chair dodging skills).
Who knows if I’ll have the convinction to do all of this – but we all have someone important in our lives harboring thoughts/ideas/gossip that we need to hear, and it seems like such a shame not to try and be open to more of them.
How do you make sure you hear the things you need to, from those important to you? And how do you tell other people things they need to know, without telling them too much?