I want to share with you the most powerful idea about human relationships that I’ve ever heard. It’s in the form of a question, and it’s from an essay by Harvard Business School professor, Thomas J. DeLong, in Remember Who You Are (2004). Here it is: “How do people experience themselves when they are with you?”
This seems like an outrageously ambitious goal to set. But in practice, it doesn’t take much to achieve. Be excited to see other people. Look them in the eye. Smile with your whole body. Call them by name, and ask how they’re doing. When people ask how you’re doing, tell them, “Excellent!” Take an interest in others’ lives. Listen to their stories, and laugh. Keep conversation focused on them, not on you. By God, tell them how great they are!
How does your spouse or significant other experience him/herself when you walk through that door after a tiring day at work? Loved and appreciated? Or deflated? How does your child experience him/herself when he/she is with you? Are you more interested in watching the TV news than you are in hearing about his day at school?
Starting now, start to notice the “invisible” people in your daily life (such as administrative assistants, maintenance staff, fast-food order takers, security workers, and customer service phone reps) and deactivate their invisibility by asking a question, complimenting their work, saying a heartfelt thank you. Rid yourself of your hierarchical lenses and see others as equal to you – because they are! There’s something magical about giving someone a high-five and uttering their name with gusto as you walk by them in the hall. Try it!
DeLong prods, “What transpires inside people when you are talking to them? What are they thinking and feeling? In what way, however small, has their perception of themselves changed as a result of having the interaction?”
When we slow down and even go out of our way to make others feel unique, interesting, talented, or important, we are truly “making their day.” For that shining moment, their experience of themselves is ideal. (And, ironically, our experience of ourselves is idealized, too.)