Understanding Others

The best one-liner that I heard over the holidays came from Virginia Madden, the wife of the late football great who died just three days after an emotional documentary on his life aired on Christmas Day. She said, “I don’t know what goes on in a man’s mind.” For the women who are reading this, boy, isn’t that the truth. Virginia Madden—the greatest philosopher of all time! And the men reading this might turn it around to go like this: “I don’t know what goes on in a woman’s mind.” That statement captures the complexity of the relationships and the communication that often goes on between couples, but inevitably surfaces in the workplace about the people we work with, connect with, and talk to each day. The number one objective that leaders indicate when wanting us to provide team training and development to their staff members is: we want to understand each other more.

The word—understanding—means having insight, having comprehension. When we have insight about each other our conversations and communication can go just that much smoother. Why is she reacting this way? Why did he think we should look at it from this angle? Why is there so much debate between Joan and Fred? Why do Jennifer and Auburn provide each other with just the right details to make their projects shine each and every time? Understanding each other more can help to answer all of those questions, minimize things gone wrong, and improve the communication flow and work outputs we all strive for.

In business, mastering the “soft skills” indicate your ability to work with others, build relationships and solve problems. There is absolutely nothing soft about making the effort to understand others. It is the primary set of skills necessary when mastering the art of working together.

A communication building activity that we often do with teams goes something like this. I call it the Triple A: Accept, Appreciate, Alter. Understanding others is not agreeing with them; it is seeing them for who they are and recognizing the differences that you have. The activity is very simple:

Now that I understand you more, I have more insight into how you operate. This awareness helps me work better and communicate more effectively with you.
• I accept that you: fill in the blank. This statement would include awareness that recognizes any differences between two people that potentially is causing confusion or conflict in the way they work together.
• I appreciate that you: fill in the blank. This sentence would include one or more strengths that are observed, and recognizes the contributions this team member provides.
• I will alter my attitude when: fill in the blank. This sentence would include what will need to change in the relationship and communication for the team to grow, improve and truly understand each other.

It is a fairly quick and easy activity, but when done with purpose, intention, and care, where team members take the time to look each other in the eye and share what they have written for the other, the moment between them becomes very poignant. This is vital not only with new teams, but with teams that have worked together for many years.

There will be times when even seasoned teams will go through rough patches and doing an activity like this seems meaningless. Trust has been broken, promises haven’t been kept, or work outputs are suboptimal. How could I even share a statement on what I accept, what I appreciate and what I will alter about you? Make the effort. Do it anyway. It will certainly help to break the standoff and move everyone onto a better playing field.

When we take the time to appreciate others and express it verbally, then they can appreciate. This raises the value of every single person on the team.

It’s not what you know, but what you do with what you know—You Know!

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