If you wanted to be a better runner, perhaps finish a marathon, what would you do?
Start training, buy some new kit to get you in the zone, gradually increase your pace or distance? You might even incorporate weights into your routine and change your diet. Bye bye pack-a-day Junior Mints habit.
If you’re really serious about it, maybe you’d even hire a trainer or coach.
Moving on from running, let’s now think about all the different relationships you have in your life. There’s:
– Your boss
– Your employees
– Your husband, wife, lover
– Your dog!
– Your customers and clients
– Your kids
– Your friends
– Jerry from the Bodega. Damn he makes a good egg sandwich.
What does your relationship with your kids and boss have to do with becoming the next Usain Bolt?
Simple. When you want to be a better runner, you put in the time, effort and resources to get there. You don’t double down on Netflix and ice cream.
Well, like running, if you want better relationships in your life, you have to make it a priority and put in the work. It’s up to you, no one is going to do it for you.
The more we do, the more we can do. – William Hazlitt
But where do you start?
Practice putting yourself in their shoes, and seeing things from their perspective.
That’s right folks, you’re going to start by trying to understand the people around you.
People crave being understood and thrive when they feel seen and heard. Think about it – how good does it feel when you’re with someone who seems to just “get you”.
Well, you could be that person! Be the one that makes people feel like you just “get them”.
Like running a marathon, it’s unlikely you’ll wake up one day without having done the work, and magically cross the finish line in record time.
The same goes for imagining someone else’s perspective, empathy.
Like a muscle that can be strengthened, empathy takes patience and commitment to build up.
The good news is, it can be an eye opening and fun process. No 5am interval training necessary.
So where do you start? Easy.
1. Ask questions
For people to feel understood, ask questions about how they feel and why they feel that way.
2. Actively listen to the answer, without judgement and an open mind
This exercise is about understanding, not winning or figuring out who is right or wrong.
3. Repeat back what you heard, in your own words
The fastest way to show someone you heard them, that you listened, is to tell them what you heard. This gives them to opportunity to clarify any misunderstanding too.
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand: they listen with the intent to reply – Stephen Covey
You’ll be surprised how often someone else’s perspective makes total sense, even if it’s opposite to how you viewed what was going on.
And, interestingly, you’ll likely notice how often you’re in total agreement with the other person. You just express your view another way.
This exercise is especially important when someone’s approach to work doesn’t seem logical to you. You always do it another way, and their way is driving you up the wall.
Instead of getting caught up in a story of who is right and wrong, I encourage you to flip the script and get curious. Consider that they simply see the situation, problem or solution differently to you.
You may come to realize they’re simply missing some information that you have, giving you the opportunity to share. Or, you find out they have information you weren’t aware of, and now you get to learn something new.
If you’re not listening, you’re not learning – Lyndon B Johnson
These situations can have some heated emotional charge around them, so often it’s easier to start practicing with low stakes scenarios, and work your way up.
Here’s a real life, low stakes example of this exercise in practice:
I used to have a roommate that left the mugs sitting right side up to dry when she did the dishes. For some people, no big deal. For me? Well, it would totally gross me out. All the dishwater would glide to the bottom of the mug, and dry there. Ew!
I felt so strongly about this – like nails on a chalkboard – that it was incredibly challenging to understand why she did it. And yes, I realize that getting worked up about mugs is weird. What can I say? I’m Australian. I’m passionate about my tea!
Let’s roll with it.
I would rather have nothing but tea – Jane Austen
Acknowledging I had a blind spot – i.e. I’d been happily doing it my way for many a year – and tired of getting irritated by what was really a lovely gesture (she was going the dishes after all), I let go of me being right, her being wrong.
Instead, I got curious. I asked her about it. Not in a judgey, accusatory way, but a “Huh, that’s kind of interesting, I’ve never thought to dry them that way. Is there a reason behind it?” tone.
Guess what I learned?
It turns out she didn’t like the rim of the mugs touching the dish rack. It grossed her out that where you put your mouth on the mug was in contact with it. WHO KNEW?!
And you know what, it makes sense. Both sides to the story do. Asking about it why she did it, rather than asking her not to do it led to a very fun conversation and avoided an argument over something quite insignificant.
You may be wondering: Did it change how I dry my teacups?
But it did make us a happier household where resentment over mug drying preferences no longer reigned supreme.
I tell ya folks, a little understanding goes a long way. Try it.
Ready to Upgrade?
If you want to become a better leader, partner and friend, check out my 10 minute exercise on how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, fast.