How often do you find yourself not really seeing other people?
In the marvelous book, Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box (Arbinger Institute), the authors contrast leadership behaviors and attitudes that are “inside the box” or “outside the box.”
To view people or situations from “inside the box” means that I am choosing to see them apart from me as objects and almost exclusively from my own self-interest.
To view them from “outside the box” means that I make a choice to view them as people with complex emotions and needs similar to my own.
As you can tell, this concept applies to more than leadership – it’s about life in general. From inside the box, we don’t hold the elevator door for the person running to catch it because we’d rather not share the ride. We put stuff in the seat next to us to avoid having someone sit down and be chatty. We don’t make eye contact because we’re lost in our own thoughts. The self-betrayal occurs around the moment of choice (smile or not; help or not). In little ways, all the time, we look at people from inside our own small, territorial box.
Two recent blog posts, along with an exercise I learned from a friend, brought the lessons from this book back up for me.
The first post, Seeing Susan Sarandon with Magical Eyes, was from Dana on Owning Pink. She tells the story of meeting Sarandon at a reception and feeling flustered as to how to approach her. Dana decided that instead of greeting her with an undercurrent of “I want something from you,” she would greet Sarandon with a loving “thank you for being you.” Dana chose to see her as a complex person, rather than a celebrity object.
The second post came from a new colleague, Betty Lochner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She wrote about making “Communication Promises to Yourself.” After sharing some personal insights about communicating with those she loves, she suggests a wonderful daily exercise that includes bringing intentions such as Listen, Focus on one thing at a time, Be thankful, Be still, Be patient, Practice gratitude, Focus on relationships, Appreciate others into conscious awareness. By doing this, Betty is offering a way we can see others as human beings on the same bumpy journey as we are, rather than as objects that get in the way of how things “should” be.
And finally, I share a fun activity that Leif Hansen of Spark Interaction uses during some of his workshops. When participants arrive for the workshop, they are instructed to draw a piece of paper out of a hat (I think it was a magic hat 😉 ) to find out their “secret mission” for the day. Secret missions include Eyes of Light (seeing others with appreciation), Divine Self-Care (holding thoughts of self-appreciation) and Gift-Giving (giving someone an unexpected gift, either material or of time and attention). These secret missions bestow on the participant a powerful intention that shifts one’s perspective to seeing the humanity in themselves and others, rather than remaining disconnected.
Wrapping this up in one neat tidy bow is quite simple: your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to spend the next week seeing people from “outside the box.” You can use any of the techniques suggested here, or make up your own. See people with eyes of light, or magical eyes. Smile more. Hold the door open. Save the seat. Say thank you to the cashier or waitress, calling them by name. Ask a friend how she’s doing, and be open to more than “oh, I’m fine.” Make an intention to embody compassion. Notice what’s reflected back to you.
Poke your head outside the box, stretch out your arms and breathe in the fresh air of love and connection.