How to Get Along With People

I’ve had my fair share of challenging conversations over the years. It can be tough to deliver a challenging message at work, take critical feedback, deal with an emotional family situation or stand up for what you believe – even when it means going against the views of someone else.

How do you deal with such situations and the people involved?

One option is to get angry, frustrated and label the other party as wrong and maybe even totally psycho! Put the blame on the other person, protect your own ego and make it a story of “me vs them”. This option might feel good initially, but will inevitably lead to more frustration, anger and rarely will solve the issue at hand. It is far more likely that you will enrage the other party, cause more resentment and ill will between everyone. Not to mention the sleepless nights spent tossing and turning worrying about the issue.

Another option is to assume the best and highest intentions for the other person involved. Don’t cast them off as psycho. Don’t belittle their ideas. Don’t make them evil. Don’t create a story of “me vs we” or “us vs them”. Instead, assume that they are behaving the way they are because at some level, deep down, they truly believe it and it serves some higher purpose for them. Assume that in their view of the world, they are right and doing the right thing.

You do NOT need to agree with their point of view. You only need to assume that they have a reason for it, and that their intention is good. You may need to really do some soul-searching to find that good intention – but it will be there if you look hard enough.

This applies even in extreme cases – where lives (or entire ways of life) are at risk or big sums of money are at stake. Even for people the public might condemn as murderers and felons, there is some seed of intention and higher purpose for what they have done. Even if that purpose serves only the individual and not the other person (or people/community) involved. It is still there.

For lessĀ  extreme cases – this is also true. Let’s take the example of a disagreement at work with a co-worker. You might not agree on an issue, but if you start a conversation by assuming their best intention (they are trying to help, build a stronger team, solve a hard problem, etc.) then you immediately have common ground and can move forward to find a resolution. You don’t have to agree with their actions, but how can you doubt their intentions? How do you know what is going on in their head? You don’t, so take the “high road” and assume the best.

At some level everyone is right in their own mind and any dialogue needs to start with acknowledging that in your own mind and internal dialogue. The alternative is to assume they are out to get you in some way…and that way of thinking just leads to stress and despair.

I prefer the way of thinking that lets me sleep well at night.

Trust and leadership

If you want to lead and wonder what it takes for people to trust you and be willing to follow your direction, demonstrate that you trust them. You’ll be amazed at what people will do to live up to your absolute trust in their capabilities.

Leadership in Everyday Life

"Snow Dancer" - me in Natarajasana aka "Dancer Pose" during a hike to a snow-covered alpine lake in the Cascade Mountains near Seattle, WA (May 2010)

Leadership is one of the most misunderstood and puzzling things. Last week I was with a group of team leaders at work discussing leadership. I felt that this is something we should challenge people do more of. Someone made the comment that “Ravi…you know that we can’t have everyone lead. We don’t have enough stuff for people to lead. If everyone was leading, we wouldn’t get work done and people would be fighting over projects to lead.” It was as if the world only has so much room for leaders. I find this notion silly. The world needs more leaders. The world DESPERATELY needs more leaders. The reason we have the problems we see in the world (e.g. rampant disease, poverty, war) is that too few people choose to step up, speak out and act in a way that helps others and inspires others to do the same.

In most situations I’d say that a small fraction of people have the desire to step into leadership roles and fewer still take the steps needed to rise to the occasion. I’ll take a wild guess and say that even in a hyper-competitive environment like a top-tier university or leading corporate environment…fewer than 10% of people (and even this is an upper bound) take advantage of regular opportunities to display leadership. Most just coast by and assume someone else will lead them or make the decision for them.

The problem starts with the reality that most people are actually confused with what leadership is to begin with. Leadership is not about managing people or being in a position of authority – like a CEO or some corporate managing director. In fact, leadership is most powerfully displayed when one acts without authority and leads people who DO NOT HAVE TO work for them. The most effective and memorable leaders in history did not actually have people who worked for them (e.g. Gandhi, Dr. King, Rosa Parks, etc.). They displayed leadership in their thoughts, words and actions and this congruence created the spark that rose others to act in kind.

Another problem is that people get tricked up with how to display leadership. They think it is about picking the right project or schmoozing with the right people. In reality, leadership often happens with seemingly small actions and decisions. Leadership happens when you break a deadlock over where to go for dinner with your friends. Leadership happens when you make the decision to take the right fork in the trail (instead of going straight) while out on a hike with friends or family. Leadership happens when you take the initiative to drive your family or friends to a new restaurant, park or museum. Leadership happens when you choose to try busting out a handstand in the middle of a yoga class – even if it means you might fall over – instead of just hanging out in a standing split or some other “safe” pose. Leadership is when you speak up during a meeting to voice your opinion on an important issue. Leadership is also listening actively to others and showing that you respect their insights as much as your own.

The world needs more leaders, not less. This isn’t a game of musical chairs with limited opportunities to lead. I would love to have the amazing problem of seeing too many people stepping out of their comfort zone, leading their families – friends – co-workers – loved ones into the future.

If you want to start leading, right now take a few minutes and brainstorm a dozen little things you can do to show leadership in your everyday life this week. Here are a few examples:

  • Offer to drive co-workers to lunch
  • Try a new pose in yoga class (or go further than you ever have before)
  • Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while
  • Hold the door open for someone, and smile while you do it
  • Give a sincere compliment to someone you don’t know
  • Speak up in class or during meeting to voice your opinion
  • Take advantage of an opportunity to present your ideas to co-workers or classmates
  • Arrange fun weekend plans for you and your friends/family

Circle three things on the list that really speak to you, and do them RIGHT AWAY.

Start leading in seemingly small ways. Do this on a daily basis and as often as your can. It is critically important. It develops your internal leadership muscle so that when larger and more meaningful opportunities to lead appear, you’ll immediately step out of your comfort zone and take them on. Start small and watch some major change happening over the longer term. Also remember that leadership is a transferable action – that is to say, by taking action you’ll inspire other to do the same. By choosing to speak up in class, you’ll inspire other students to do the same. By taking on a more challenging yoga pose, you’ll inspire others by showing them what is possible. Don’t hesitate, do it now.

Actions Speak Loudly

One of my favorites sayings (not sure who to attribute it to):

“Who you are speaks so loudly, I can hardly hear a word you are saying”

When you have nothing to prove and are acting out of sheer joy, interest, kindness and support – you end up making a far bigger impact than you could ever try to make. Think about that the next time you are trying to create a change at your place of work, home or in a relationship.

(note: I edited the quote after I published this….had the first part wrong)

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

What you (or a customer, or a partner, etc.) do is far more powerful than what you say. We know in marketing that the best form of marketing is a referral from someone who has actually used and can vouch for a product. In family situations, kids learn best not by being told what to do, but by watching their parents and siblings. I witnessed this first-hand by observing my niece (who is almost 2) learn new words and skills just by watching others!

In whatever you do, if you want to be at cause – that is to say, if you want to create a change in any part of your workplace or you personal life – take action and let those actions speak for themselves. People will also be more receptive to a new idea if they aren’t sold on it. Best let them learn from your example.

How To Win Friends And Influence People (Part III)

Listening to the audio book for How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Read Part 1 and Part 2 for insights from the earlier portions of the book. Here are some insights from this evening’s listening:

  • See things always from another person’s point of view – always, try as hard as you can to do this
  • Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires
  • Appeal to people’s nobler motives
  • Use showmanship to get attention – movies do it, TV does it, window displays do it – and it works
  • You can dramatize ideas in business or any other part of life – works great when dealing with adults and kids! Dramatize facts to make a point in a business setting. Use props if necessary to get your point across
  • The way to get things done is to stimulate competition – in a healthy and productive way, throw down a challenge and see what happens!
  • Work is the most motivating force for any worker, not money, benefits or anything else – quality and interesting work is the single biggest tool to keep people interested in their job
  • Let other people do a great deal of the talking in any conversation
  • It’s always easier to listen to criticism after you have given someone some praise – never just criticize, always see the positive aspects and comment on them first – them provide your thoughtful critique
  • Providing criticism after praise is a technique used by many world leaders past and present (Lincoln, Coolidge, McKinley, etc.) in motivating staff an leading without making people feel bad
  • Beginning with praise is like a dentist that begins with Novocaine!
  • There is a way to redirect/correct/criticism without upsetting people – make others feel important (praise) while correcting
  • People judge us by our “letters” – small errors, like spelling errors, make a big impression
  • Humbling oneself and praising another can turn a staunch adversary into a close friend
  • Admitting one’s own mistakes can motivate others to change their behavior for the better. For example, by quitting smoking – parents will set a positive example that children and friends will notice (and potentially follow)
  • A good leader talks about their own mistakes before criticizing others

Lessons in Life From America’s Next President

I’m usually not a big fan of Men’s Health magazine, but this month there is a great article full of life lessons from inspiring people

Lance Armstrong, Michael Pollan (author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma) and even Barack Obama are featured! The more I read about Barack the more I like him and look forward to the change he is bound to bring to this country and the world. You can check out the portion of the article about Barack here, based on an interview he did back in August.

The article also has a link to download (for $5) a pdf with more content from the interview including lessons about leadership, health and parenting. I haven’t checked out this download yet…if you have, leave a comment and let me know how it is!