As Peter Marshall, a chaplain, said in 1947 “'... if we don't stand for something, we shall fall for anything”. When this question is asked, the most prevalent answer I hear is “family”. I think for most of us family is certainly important, and we value it highly, but what would we say if our own family was asking us that question, what else do you stand for?
Earlier in my career all the senior managers in the company were sent on a leadership development course. In small groups we met for a couple of days at a time over a 6 month period. I remember feeling uncomfortable initially. The people around us can seem so different; we think they don’t understand us, and - for the most part - they don’t. That’s because we never really talk to them about what is truly important. Instead, we make judgments about people based on what we see and hear, yet this is simply the tip of the iceberg.
The visual analogy of us as icebergs, which I learned from the course, really stuck with me. We can observe the behaviours of another person (the tip of the iceberg that pops its head up above the ocean), but the beliefs, values and needs of that person are unseen (the much greater part of the iceberg below sea level).
With that wonderful, cursed, mind of ours we start to weave stories about other people’s behavior, usually based on our own beliefs, values and needs. This leads to misunderstandings, because we really can’t fully understand another person’s experience and what’s driving their behavior without asking them. Even then, people often struggle to put words to what lies beneath the surface.
When I was interviewing for a Training Manager last year, she introduced the concept of ‘Lego Serious Play’ . Throwing a huge pile of blocks on the table, she asked us to take a minute and build a representation of what was important to us, in whatever way we wanted to, from the blocks available. I instinctively grabbed the few pink blocks that there were and started to make the shape of a heart. My colleague set about his creation, and thankfully (since neither of us were exactly ‘master builders’) we were given a few moments to explain what we’d built.
On the face of it, he and I had very little in common. This exercise, though, got to the heart of what was important to each of us in a matter of minutes; and cleverly gave our prospective employee some good insight into her new employer. Both of us had built very different looking creations, but both represented the importance we placed on people above all else, and bringing people on the journey with us.
It’s often easier to use this kind of abstract approach, or even pictures or songs, as a way of describing some of the things that have deeper significance for us. Just this week I sat down with my daughter, who is not enjoying her current day care situation, and we put together a ‘dream book’ of all the things that are important to her. We chose pictures that ultimately say she loves a good balance of being social and having her own space. I tell her it’s important that she holds on to what she wants (more space), that it can sometimes take a while, but she’ll get it.
The more authentic we are being, the more in tune with ourselves we are, and the world around us. Too often we are in situations where what we really value and believe is hidden – or forbidden, or just not seen as socially or culturally acceptable. Sometimes knowing what’s important comes out of knowing what doesn’t feel right or fit.
In the middle of selling our house right now, I had a lightbulb moment while looking at the sales blurb. The agent first described our house with the usual glossy pitch, we had beautiful pictures taken and the house was marketed on the front page of the property press. As people started to look through, we got feedback that the décor is tired. True, it is.
Not being a real estate agent myself, I had pretty much left them to the initial marketing. But what I came to realise was this approach doesn’t fit with who I am, nor what the house is. It needed to be more authentic, transparent. So I rewrote the blurb, describing the house exactly as I see it, with “perfect flow and function” and included a very transparent “the opportunity to update the décor and carpeting is easy pickings for those looking to add value”.
It’s important that we stand for who we are through our everyday dealings and interactions. If you feel the place you work every day, or the people you hire to provide you a service, or the people you spend time with, aren’t a match, maybe it’s time to move on. Easier said than done, I know, but you at least start the thought process – maybe even put a dream book together.
The sooner you bring to light what you stand for, the sooner you can stand in the shoes of someone in the process of becoming much more in tune with themselves, much happier in their relationships, work and life. So what’s stopping you?
This article was originally published at LinkedIn.
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070463@N03/9172311242">Bouba, Madiba's father</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">(license)</a>
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