Last week I spoke at a client event and asked the members of the audience to pair up for a ten minute conversation. I prefaced that quick activity with this comment, “People are never where they are, they are where they came from.” This confused the audience, which was by design. So what does it mean?
When we have a conversation with someone, we make the mistake of talking to the person we see right in front of us, as opposed to the person who came to that specific point in time in front of you from somewhere else. Just minutes prior to your conversation, that person could have had a really bad call/email/message. Or perhaps the negative event occurred the day before, or the week/month/year before.
As many have previously said, we are a collection of our experiences, and not at a static point. The point of the ten minute exercise was to listen to the other person talk. Instead of only hearing words coming out of their mouths, I asked them to also try to decipher what had happened to them, positive or negative, that got them to the point of where they are. Why? Because people are infinitely easier to deal with, especially in high emotional temperature situations, when we can understand where they came from, than what it is that they are arguing for/against.
This is like doing a root-cause analysis of the person. People give us clues to their past all the time. Are they smiling? Are their eyebrows relaxed or quinted? Are they quiter than usual? All these non verbals provide priceless clues and in many cases, these clues are designed for someone else to probe into. I asked the audience to give a label or name to the emotion that they felt the other person exhibited during the conversation. As we debriefed after the exercise, people where surprised at how this forced them to be active listeners, better conversationalists, and how it allowed them to connect better. This is the power of empathy—the most underutilized component of EQ and by far the most underestimated component of EQ.
Try this today and let me know goes.