Disruption starts with me (and alot of listening)
If you and I went to the movies together, there is no guarantee we would come out feeling the same way. You may feel delighted, uplifted and like life is great — I may come out feeling worthless, depressed with the weight of the world on my shoulder. It would have nothing to do with the plot, but everything to do with our origin stories.
When I was chatting to Miri Rodriguez a couple of months ago she used this example to show me that it doesn’t matter what/who you watch or who you listen to, it’s the stories that you bring from your life that create the lens you process other people’s stories through. Someone speaks and you interpret. It happens naturally, like breathing air.
Unless we disrupt ourselves.
Now, more than ever, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd I am aware of my need to disrupt my White-man middle-class lens — so I can see and hear the things I simply didn’t see and hear because I never experienced them. The disruption solution for me? — to listen.
But this need for disruption goes way back, before the riots and protests, before Covid19, before we could even learn to speak or walk. We have always been living out of our origin stories — taking on the “normal” view from what our world and our family gave us. Whether you were brought up in the aristocracy or brought up in a refugee camp the story you have lived speaks louder than the words that other people say to you. So how do we disrupt ourselves, give the best of ourselves to our friends, enemies, clients, co-workers and find connection in all circumstances?
Steve Covey in his brilliant book “Seven habits of highly effective people” says that empathy is the ability to view the world through the other person’s lenses — not to agree with them, just to see it as they see it. Empathy is not agreement, but it is agreeing that the person in front of you has a story they need to tell. Satya Nadella mentions Empathy 53 times in his book “Hit Refresh”. It is not a nice idea — it is a reality that has propelled Microsoft, under his leadership, to stratospheric proportions. The company is excelling because he listens, then does the work.
So how do we listen and then do the work? Here are some quick thoughts on how to get out of our heads, to disrupt our origin stories to be able to focus on the other. This is all from Steve Covey’s fifth habit “Seek first to understand”. I call it TAPE.
1) Create Time. Time is a precious commodity nowadays and nobody seems to have it. What if you took 15 minutes to really listen to somebody, to ignore the emails that come flying in, the whattsapp notifications, the calendar reminders? What if you said to yourself “I will aim to give every one of these 15 minutes to the person in front of me”? It is an attitude that will affect how you then handle the distractions.
2) Allow Psychological Air. Just as we need physical air to survive we need psychological air. By allowing the person to speak, not interrupting, holding back a little bit before you speak, encouraging them to keep going, allowing space it will make a huge difference. If it helps, imagine that you are giving them the opportunity to breathe air. It is an act of the will for me to not speak, to be silent, to show with my body and face that I am here to give someone air, but every time I do it I can see the person in front of me relax. They know they won’t be interrupted, they can breathe.
3) Playback. This transformed my marriage, parenting, friendships and business. The only way to ensure that you have heard correctly what the person has said, to not get lost in your origin story, is to play it back. Not word for word, not like a parrot, but the overall message of what you are hearing. And playback is NOT playback with a little bit of interpretation and judgement. No, playback is just that — play it back and ask — does that sound right? People will let you know if you heard right. It always deepens the conversation.
4) With Empathy. As you playback, bring empathy. If they had a tough weekend and couldn’t get to their mum because their car stopped work, say “So you tried to see your Mum but your car broke down and you were trapped indoors again. That sounds really relaly disappointing”. I am not interpreting, I am sharing an emotion I imagine they may have felt. Empathy is great for conflict. If forces me to get out of my head and not react, it enables me to let the person know I understand the emotion they are feeling because of my actions and then it enables me to disagree, if I need to.
I have been doing a lot of TAPE over these past few weeks and it has been so helpful to hear stories, to listen, to ponder, to be able to respond. But honestly, I have been doing TAPE for years. It is the best way to understand humans, grow your business, stay present and be human. Why not try one of the four letters today. Then pick up another letter the next day and so on. Step change starts by taking steps. Message me and let me know your successes and your struggles. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be fully human.