As my pal Ian so clearly articulated last week, the political mudslinging leading up to election day has done a lot to make our public discourse less appealing. Much of our private discourse hasn’t been exactly full of generosity and support, either. But in the midst of all this grandstanding and polemics, I’ve been struck by how well received a little old fashioned commiseration can be.
As usual, I’ve got a billionity-teen projects going on, and a few of them are at that stage some folks call the “fuzzy front end.” That’s not a reference to certain unethical acts taking place at your local zoo, but the part of a project where opportunities are identified and aspects are ruled out while you try to decide whether it makes sense to fully invest time and resources into the idea. As a result, my various partners and I have been doing a lot of dreaming – about the goals of the projects, what the process should be like, and how the finished product will look. It’s been wonderful to share the excitement of their dreams, and to be able to make suggestions and comments and see how their eyes light up as they get inspired about how to bring their dreams into reality.
There’s so much written these days about how to succeed, how to bring your own dreams into focus, that I think what sometimes gets ignored is the fact that helping others succeed is one of the most rewarding activities on the planet. Often, the most helpful thing you can do is lend someone your attention and your input for a few moments. This can be a lot more valuable to them than your money or your direct guidance.
As it turns out, being attentive rather than being assertive can have other benefits, as well. I was talking with one of my mentors recently, a wonderful businessman name Tom Buck, about difficult conversations with employees or associates. Tom suggested a few approaches, including this one: “first, seek to understand.” That simple advice has been like an instant black belt in conflict resolution, and I owe Tom a big debt of gratitude for sharing it with me.
That same mindset applies during the visioning process with a consulting client, a business partner, or an employee. People worth working with tend to have really great ideas, and often the biggest obstacle to achieving their ideas is difficulty in imagining it to the extent necessary to get started on practical steps. Since we’re social creatures, many of us do our best thinking while talking with good listeners; i.e., people who “first, seek to understand.” You can be one of those people. Listen. Reflect their ideas back. Suggest approaches. Listen some more. Help someone dream. You may find that by helping others dream, you can realize your own!