As we are heading into Christmas I want to share some thoughts with can help each of us to cultivate better relationships with people – be that people in business lives or people in our personal lives. I hope that you find something of value, I thank you for reading this blog and I wish you a great Christmas and all the best for the New Year.
“Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design” Dieter Rams
I’d go further and say that indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in business and in life.
It is the indifference to customers and the reality of their lives (including experiences with your organisation) that leaves the door open to more open-minded competitors . It is the indifference towards our channel partners and the reality of their lives that is the source of mistrust and friction in doing a better job of taking care of the end customer. It is the indifference to our people and the reality of their lives that is the source of most failed change initiatives and the rampant alienation/demotivation in the work place.
It is the indifference towards the people in our lives and the reality in which they live that is the cause of difficult relationships in our lives. The trouble is that we do not realise that we are being indifferent towards people and the reality of their lives until and unless we have walked a mile in their shoes.
“To understand a man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasin” North American Indian Proverb
Intellectual understanding is a world apart from lived-in experience. If we want to understand our fellow human beings (to really get their world) then there is absolutely no substitute for walking in their shoes. Allow me to share a personal example that came home to me, vividly, this week.
Last Friday my son was sick with an upset stomach – at one stage he was doubled over in pain clutching his stomach. How did I respond? I listened to him as someone who had brought about his own misery by not eating healthily. Instead of soothing the pain through words and acts of kindness I heaped on the pain of criticism. I was totally convinced that I was right and he was wrong. Then on Sunday night I got to experience what he experienced: burning sensation in the stomach, stomach pain, vomiting……. For most of Monday I felt like I had been in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson.
When I had a purely intellectual understanding I responded with my intellect – mainly judgement. Once I had experienced what he had experienced I got his discomfort, his pain, his situation. I’d go further and say ONLY when I had experienced what my son experienced was I in a position to understand how he felt, what he was likely to be thinking and how I should have behaved to meet his needs. Furthermore, only after I had experienced what he experienced did his needs occur as being reasonable to me. There is profound lesson here: what occurs as reasonable or unreasonable depends on what you have or have not experienced.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around” Leo F. Buscagalia
When I had experienced what my son had experienced and then reflected on how I had behaved towards him I rang him to apologise. This is what he told me “Don’t worry Papa. I know that you love me by the way that you washed my hair.” On Saturday morning my son had been weak (after throwing up for much of the night) and had soiled his bed linen. He needed to have a shower yet felt too weak to stand so I ran a bath for him. Then he asked me if I would wash his hair as he did not feel able. So I took a few moments out of my day to wash his hair gently so that he would feel loved – that single loving act made all the difference to my son and our relationship. Leo has it right when he counsels us to never underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring. This philosophy can be applied just as well in business as it can in our personal lives.