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Story Three

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Do it “With” People, not “To” People


During an interview, I was asked to offer some suggestions to a CEO who was struggling with the decision to fire one of her core team members.

I gave some ideas and the interviewer stopped short. “Really? You think she should talk to an employee like that?”
I replied, “No, I don’t think she should talk to her. I think she should talk with her”.

When we talk to someone, we’re starting from a closed off and divided posture. And when we’ve built up a long-term habit of talking to people, they (whether they’re conscious of it or not) will be perpetually guarded and hesitant around us. They’ll approach conversations with us assuming that we think they’re wrong and need to be fixed.

Case in point: The Story of Sister Mary Alice

Sister Mary Alice is headed to the Bishop’s office with a tray of tea. As she’s walking in, her habit catches on the doorframe and rips. She looks down at her torn habit and says, “Oh damn”. Then she looks up at the Bishop and says, “Oh shit, I said Oh damn. Oh fuck, I said Oh shit!”

This is our most essential challenge: We think we should be different than the way we are. We think our authentic selves are somehow ‘wrong’ and that when we let our ideas and natural responses come forth, we’ll be judged and criticized endlessly.

When we engage with people, we make space for their background conversations to meet ours in a meaningful, honest exchange. We affirm that our job title doesn’t mean they should be afraid of us. We create the spirit of openness and free-flowing dialogue that our next big innovative steps require.


For the next week, month, year or lifetime, in every conversation you have, ask the question:

“When I say that, what do you hear?”

You may have to ask this several times.

You will begin to see that people hear your words in a completely different way than you sometimes intend.

You are in a dance.


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