It would be so much easier to accomplish everything we set out to accomplish if other people were… [fill in the blank]! I know… “how cynical!” Right? But surely, we all think that, or things like that on a regular basis. Most human beings are hard-wired to judge and compare, and usually, unless you have profound self-esteem issues, others come up short. This happens in the workplace and at home. My executive clients regularly complain about the shortcomings of their employees, and my life coaching clients complain about their spouses, children and bosses. I thought the beginning of the year might be a good time to do a little thought experiment to address this recurring theme. And in case you are wondering, I started doing the experiment using my own internal monologue of blame and criticism — since I am exactly like all of you, and regularly find fault with those in my life and work.
It was a coaching client that started me thinking about this. In order to coach people you have to be able to transform yourself into a champion for your client –regardless of your opinion. Since I am extremely opinionated, being able to put aside my opinions and be a champion for my clients to win — and being adamant that they will not fail — requires me to listen in a very disciplined way. For the most part I am extremely successful in doing that professionally, and can completely alter how I listen to almost anyone if we are in a coaching conversation. In fact, I can honestly say that I adore my coaching clients — and that is categorically true even of the ones I don’t have yet. Because it applies even to clients I don’t yet have, it clearly is not coincidental or related to anything about their personalities. It has something to do with how I am with them, as contrasted with how I am elsewhere.
The challenge comes with people who are not my clients. So I wanted to see if I could bring the same kind of clarity and discipline to non-clients, and what would happen if I did. To do this exercise I started from a strange premise, and certainly one that you would have to just imagine, because it is neither true nor false. It is more like a way to prepare mentally before interacting –not so different than going into an interrogation by telling yourself “they are trying to get a reaction”, and then instructing yourself to listen to everything they say knowing that it’s only purpose is to annoy or irritate you. If you could keep that premise in your mind during an interrogation you would respond differently, right? You would remain calm and let everything just roll off of you instead of becoming emotional. Well, this is similar, but has a different purpose.
Before interacting (in any way) with someone about whom you normally complain, tell yourself that no matter what they say or do, you will learn something from it. (Now, be careful you don’t start manipulating that in your mind by turning it on its head and learning something about how messed up they are.) You are out to learn something about the power you bring to every interaction. Because if the experiment works and you do have that power, the possibilities for your quality of life and work are immense!
The trick is to listen keenly for that person’s greatest self. Imagine you are the person’s biggest fan, that they have nothing but pearls of wisdom for you, and your goal is to hear all of it, learn all of it and benefit from it. I know, it sounds crazy when you apply that to someone who annoys you. But remember, it’s an experiment. And it’s a secret experiment. You don’t tell the person you’re doing this, you just do it.
When I tried it myself it was really interesting. Suddenly, the annoyance fell away. I don’t know for sure whether they were different, but I know I was different. My body language changed automatically. My responses changed. I found myself interested instead of bored or irritated — and I did learn from the exchange. I learned from lots of people for the last few days that I’ve been doing this, mostly from the ones who I normally avoid or hasten to evade.
I’m not suggesting that by doing this you will never again be annoyed. But there are key people in your life with whom you are less powerful, more unhappy and less productive – people who are not going away. If you can bring joy, empowerment and freedom to those interactions with those people, you will be more powerful and effective. So give it a try. Champion the greatness of someone who bugs you and watch them change!