I was blown away. He gave me one of the best audience comments I’d ever heard, and as he said it, I knew something had changed for him.
I had just finished delivering my talk, “Building Trust”, to a group of 100 people.
They brought me in because their organization was going through restructuring. There were many changes in leadership.
People had had to learn new skills and others had even needed to change office locations. They needed to rely on each to make this work. They needed to trust each other.
If you follow my work, then you know the tools I use are musical instruments. I do this so people can experience the concepts that I speak about. The audience sits in a circle so they can see each other as they do this.
About 2/3’s of the way through my program, I had the group improvising a piece of music, as I often do.
At one point, when the piece was cookin’, (musical term for going really well), I brought a couple of people into the center of the circle. One of them was the boss.
At first they weren’t sure why I brought them up there. I told them, “Just stand here and listen.”
When the program was over and I was chatting with a few audience members, the boss approached me.
He said, “Hey Paul, I have a suggestion for you. Remember when you brought me up to the center to listen? I said, “Yes.” He said, “You should find a way to have everyone get to do that.”
I said, “Interesting. Why do you think that?”
He said, “When I was in the middle of the circle, I could hear how it was all fitting together. I was astounded at how great we sounded as a group.
When I was sitting in my section, I didn’t hear that. I only heard the few people around me and myself. It didn’t sound as good. I was wondering if what I was doing mattered.
When I was standing up there, I realized that this is something everyone can learn from. It would help them appreciate their contribution.”
It struck me that many of us suffer from that problem. We’re working away doing the best we can but we don’t know the impact we’re having. We don’t know if what we are doing is making a difference.
And it’s because we don’t have the right perspective.
One of the hardest things to have in life is perspective.
We work hard, try our best, and think we’re doing the right thing, but sometimes it’s hard to know if we actually are.
If we’re lucky, we get some feedback. (Learn more about how to receive feedback in my post How to receive feedback like a Japanese shopkeeper.)
But if we’re not getting feedback, there are so many things that can skew our perspective.
· we think because we’ve done “A”, then we should be able get “B”.
· we think because we’ve put in a certain number of hours, we should have a result equaling that time.
· we’ve followed a certain path, taken certain advice, and so we should achieve a certain result.
· we base our expected results on experiences we’ve had before. Or even worse, we base them on what we’ve seen happen to others.
Trouble is, we often use motivated reasoning. This warps our reasoning and decision-making processes.
And when we don’t get the results we were hoping for, it is easy to get down on ourselves or where we work. Sometimes we even blame others for our seeming lack of achievement.
All because we don’t have perspective.
Even when you work with people you can still feel alone.
These days I work more as a speaker than I do as a musician.
The downside of being a speaker is that I work alone - at least when I am up on stage. This can make having a clear perspective really difficult.
When I am up on the speaking stage, I have no choice. I do what I think is best based on my client consultations and years of experience. Those are the things that make up my perspective. (See my biases here?) And I hope that I give my clients what they are expecting.
But to be honest, I may be going for it – doing the best I can -- but I never really know until I get some feedback.
Feedback is a funny thing. I might be speaking to a room of 200 people but there are only a few people who will step up to offer feedback at the end. There are only a few people who will share their perspective.
There are even fewer who will say something other than the good stuff I'm hoping to hear, the stuff that gives me another perspective.
It makes sense, sharing one’s perspective is a generous gift that takes time to give.
We all need those people.
While it’s nice to hear things that confirm your perspective, it’s even nicer to hear things that change it a bit.
To change your perspective, you need to hear something different than you’re used to hearing. You need to hear phrases like:
Have you ever thought of…?
Have you ever considered…?
Have you ever done…?
You know what would be cool…
Or sage advice like… It’s great what you doing but here’s what you really need to do to take this to a higher level.
That higher level means developing a deeper understanding of how to make what you do more useful (or valuable) to others.
That stuff is gold!
But what if you don’t have folks doing that for you? Then you have to seek them out for yourself.
Things you can do to change your perspective.
1) Beware of “Should”.
Should is a word full of assumptions. The trouble is, those assumptions come from us. Anytime you find yourself saying the word “should”, you need to beware. We all like it when things are for sure and we can predict certain outcomes. It fits well with our dislike of change. (Learn how to be more resilient to change here.
Much of life is not like that. I’m not saying you need to go around second-guessing yourself. Just beware of “should”.
2) Talk to people in your department.
This is something you’re probably already doing. These people are your “compadres”. You’re in it together. But remember: the people in your department are in the same bubble as you so that’s only one perspective.
3) You need a sense of the big picture.
Again, it’s too easy for us to go around thinking that I/we are doing our job and that’s enough. To have a better perspective, you have to probe for more. You need to find ways to learn about how the parts in your organization fit together. You need to figure out whether you’re contributing to that. This takes some extra work but it can help you make the best use of your time and talents.
4) Talk to people outside work
Another great way to gain perspective is to talk to people who aren’t involved. Yes, you might have to take what they say with a grain of salt but I will bet you’ll also find some wisdom. Someone who cares about you may tell you what you want to hear. But if you’re lucky, they may tell you things that you didn’t expect to hear.
5) Being grateful and less negative.
As I get older, I see how beneficial this is and science is proving it.
There’s a lot of negativity out there and it’s all too easy to get down on things that aren’t going the way you think they should. We all know people who see things from a negative perspective. And, of course, we all have bad days. The trick is how to be happy anyway. (Read about how to do that in this post). Taking the time to be grateful each day can make a huge difference in your perspective. Do it!
6) Become a master at putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
If you can do this, you have a useful skill. Most of us aren’t that good at this because we’re not willing to take the time. If you want to do this, you have to become a better listener (learn how to listen better here). You need to be observant. You almost have to start thinking like Sherlock Holmes, looking at why people do what they do. And it’s not about “playing” people. It has to be sincere so don’t bother if you need to fake it. People can tell.
Two more things
Be humble and ask questions.
A lot of us don’t ask questions because we are scared about what people will think. We’re worried that we will be perceived as insecure or lacking in knowledge. You might want to rethink that. Just take a look at Einstein’s philosophy. Or have a read of this Fast Company article – How the most successful people ask questions.
Don’t slough this off.
Gaining perspective can make all the difference to your workplace happiness. You owe it to yourself to pull yourself out of your cubicle and start talking to some people. No, not every job is forever. But perspective might help you understand why you’re there right now and what you can do to make the most of it. And here’s a thought: it might give other people some perspective on you, and that’s a good thing, right?
Maybe the boss will do it.
The message that the boss in my opening story came away with was a powerful one. He learned that his employees don’t always have the right perspective. They can't always see to how important or valuable their contribution is. That is a major realization for anyone in charge of a group of people and I’ll bet he’s doing things to change that. If you’re a boss, perhaps this is something to consider for you as well.
If you’re an employee, then you can always do it yourself. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by the results.
To chat more about perspective or to see how I can help your organization, just shoot me an email. I've got some pretty cool ways of giving them perspective on how they can achieve more by working together better.