[Week 24.04] Tell Me Something I Don’t KnowJanuary 29, 2024
I had the opportunity to take a real vacation last week. It felt really great to know that the team at 100 Coaches Agency is now so strong that I feel comfortable enough to take time off work, not check email, and trust that everything is in good hands. That confidence in the team allowed my thoughts to wander elsewhere. One of the many unexplored avenues I meandered down was thinking about people I am close to and what they were up to. And that led me to think about my cousin, whom I adore. Our families gather for holidays, share occasional lunches, and talk on the phone from time to time. Somehow, despite feeling very close to him, it dawned on me that I was completely unaware of large swaths of his life. I know he loves to play golf, but I don’t really know how he experiences the sport. I know his family loves to travel, but I’m unsure where. I know little about the details of his work, even though I know and understand what he does. And then I thought, if I don’t know that much about my own cousin, what about the people I work with or the people in my communities?
Reflecting on this question further, I’ve realized that I am often good about learning about someone in my first meeting or two. However, after I had formed a narrative about who they were, this became my mental model of them. I generally find that further information reinforces this mental model, and paying attention to information refuting my internal narrative of them is challenging. Even when an initial encounter leads to a deep connection, it is rare that I find the time to continue to understand more about the person's fullness. And, of course, they are constantly growing and changing over time. So, it may be the case that I know people less over time by not asking for more information. Certainly, I knew my cousin well when we were growing up. In the years since, have I really kept up with who he is today?
The problem is that I am not asking for regular updates that peek beneath the surface of what is happening in that moment in time. Perhaps we talk about news, entertainment, our families, or even our parents. But we are not discussing things that would allow me to form a richer, deeper, more holistic view of a person. As I peer into that corner, I realize I am not doing the work of continuing to update my mental models for many of the people I feel close to. And not enough with the people I work with. I am not suggesting that we need a deep dive before every conversation. Still, I am considering that taking a moment to approach someone I know and love with curiosity and seeking to uncover something new and meaningful about them will make the precious time we spend together feel even richer.
In every conversation, we have the choice to take a moment and understand that person a little more. Even a minute of understanding will build a richer and more living picture of the people we work, play, collaborate, and partner with. Asking them to tell you something you don’t know about them opens a window into their world that may bring light into yours. Knowing more about their experiences will provide context for their actions. It helps us update our own mental models and connect more deeply with the person in front of us, not just our perception of who they are. It creates the potential to be a better partner, friend, colleague, or sibling. This commitment to curiosity is contagious, and they may try to get to know you better as well, leading to a deeper relationship.
In life and leadership, our relationships with people are our most valuable assets. Everyone we know has a rich and varied life, full of experiences that we are unaware of, experienced in a way that is unique to them. It is natural for us to want to understand people, and so we craft our mental image. We forget that, like us, they are always evolving, even (or perhaps especially) if we are close to them. It takes consciousness and energy to update our perceptions, but for those who are willing to explore, we are all a deep reef of past experiences, full of colors not yet imagined. We add new stories and experiences daily, some bold and expansive, some quiet and intimate. If we have the curiosity to ask, we can expand our relationships, enrich our lives through the lives of others, and have more resilient relationships. Rather than thinking we know people well, let’s explore the idea that there is so much we don’t know and so much we can learn. To take the time to understand the people I care about, I will ask them, “Tell me something I don’t know,” and thicken my understanding of the world around me.
With love, gratitude, and wonder.