I saw this cartoon yesterday and it immediately brought to mind this paradox of perspective and the old adage that there are three sides to every story … yours, mine and the truth.
In our multicultural society, even holiday greetings are subject to scrutiny, and its hard to get it right! Saying “Happy Holidays” is a safe way to wish a group of coworkers a good break, but among that group there may be a number of people who would rather hear “Merry Christmas” because it is a truer expression of their own beliefs and traditions. No matter what we say in this circumstance, there will be those that appreciate our approach and those that don’t. And no matter what you say, the turkey will never be happy!
This post isn’t about holiday greetings though, so I’ll point to another example from my past that I often use to illustrate this point. Earlier in my career I worked at an organization that had a very relaxed dress code. One day I showed up at work in a suit and tie and was greeted by my leader’s leader with a wry “Nice suit, Ian! Who is the job interview with?” I answered, “Sorry no job interview today. Just a funeral.” I wasn’t offended by the comment (and I know it wasn’t offered to offend) but it does illustrate that we can make snap assessments of what might be going on and find that our assessment might land so far from the truth to have the potential to cause issues. Or at least it can be interpreted as such.
So how do we navigate tricky waters such as these? And even more challenging, what happens when we don’t know that the waters hold unseen challenges? Back to the three sides of every story … we know our own side of the story, and the truth is unchangeable so our opportunity to learn something lies in the other person’s story.
Here’s a few ideas to consider to help us navigate when speaking in groups, even groups as small as our self and one other person. I’ve deliberately not numbered this list as each situation may call for them in a different order.
- Use our inside voice – this is my favorite item on the list. When we’re uncertain about our surroundings or when there seem to be different perspectives in the room, it is helpful to say what we want to say to our self first. I find it amazing how good our instincts can be, making a quick decision as to whether our planned words will land well.
- Notice who we are with – our inside voice often needs more information, and a lot of that is contextual. Notice the people around you. Are they younger? Older? Male? Female? Culturally diverse? Our leaders? Our team members? This additional context holds some great signals as to what the correct path forward might be.
- Check our true intent – this is trickier as it requires us to be immediately honest with our self. For example, if we are preparing to tell a joke what is our intent? Is it to create a lighter mood in the room? Or is it to raise our own stature in the room? Another example … if we are preparing to share information is it to contribute to the advancement of the conversation or is it to show how much we know about the topic? If we know our intent has the best interests of others in mind, then we can help our cause by either stating our intent or by projecting it genuinely with our expression and our emotions.
- Prefer questions over statements – sometimes it isn’t obvious how to proceed. We don’t have a good read on the room, we may know our intent but our inner voice is giving us signals that we may be missing something. When in doubt … talk tentatively. Ask questions to get more information. In my story about wearing a suit to work, a question like” “Wow, you’re all dressed up today … what’s going on for you?” would have elicited that I was attending a funeral and led to a more genuine engagement.
The bottom line is that there is usually a prize or two to seeking perspective. We gain insight into our own intent, we gather additional information about others that may change our approach and we create a stance that is more likely to create strong connections with others.
But there can be a price to perspective as well, but it is one I’m usually willing to pay. That price is having to let go of any preconceived and perhaps comfortable positions we entered the situation with. If we’re strong, we might find our self in a position where we are no longer driving a conversation but instead allowing others to give us new information.
All this can be unsettling at times, but it is a path to growth, and that is the ultimate prize!