A former co-worker, when facing an interaction with someone she found unpleasant, would often say “I need to find something to like about him.” I always saw the wisdom in her approach, but the execution eluded me. Most of the time, people I experienced as unpleasant simply kept that label until I experienced them differently. She, on the other hand, would seek more information about that unpleasant person, actively looking for some common ground on which to build.
Recently, I attended a talk by Marga Odahowski, a corporate Mindfulness Consultant, who asked the question, “What does your routine keep you from noticing?” It’s a great question, and I want to pass it along to you.
I am not criticizing routines, personally I’m a big fan - I strongly believe that mine make me efficient and effective. I am sharing Marga’s question because it’s insightful and powerful. If answered, it creates awareness and that can lead to different approaches, to different efficiencies, to different results.
In her own way, my former co-worker used a version of this question when she met someone who rubbed her wrong. Like many mindfulness related activities, the question encourages you to create a pause between stimulus and action/reaction.
A personal example, I have INTJ preferences and often find it challenging to work with people who have ESTP preferences. It isn’t that I dislike them, it's more that their “seize the day” approach often feels at odds with my detached, analytical style. I’m learning that my “routine”, in this case, keeps me from noticing the spontaneity, energy and pragmatic, problem-solving often associated with ESTPs.
What’s the leadership lesson in this? I’m glad you asked, as a leader, you typically don’t have to look far, or hard to find someone you experience as difficult - an employee, a client, a peer, a manager - opportunities abound.
What’s your routine in those cases? Does it include labeling them as someone to contend with? What hidden gems might you not be noticing about them? What strengths might you be overlooking? How might their differences, or even difficulties add a perspective that you might not have?
I’m working hard on finding things to like about people, especially when that isn’t my immediate reaction. I hope to encourage you to do the same. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, on Marga’s question and on your own experiences.