The most important lesson I’ve learned about working with people is this: People are crazy, yourself included. Don’t assume they are going to do something the way you would do it or the way you think it should be done. But you can assume they will get it done because most people are great workers.
Assume there is always a way. If you assume nothing is impossible, you can find a solution. This starts with empathic listening and ends with true collaboration. Assume whomever you are talking to has something to teach you and can help you accomplish things together.
When you are in a conversation, listen to the person who is talking. That sounds like such an easy thing to do, but in practice, it is very difficult. We’re not taught this skill in school. We’re taught both reading and writing, the two sides of a written conversation. But we’re only taught to speak well, not listen well. So, most verbal conversation is lopsided.
Most of the time, we’re just waiting our turn to open our mouths. And when we actually listen to another person, we’re not thinking openly about what they are saying from their perspective; we’re framing it within our own. Here’s an example.
John: “Sorry I’ve been hard to reach. My dad has had some health issues, so I’ve been traveling back to my hometown to help out on weekends.”
Here are some possible responses to that.
Bob: “Oh, okay. Well, it’s just that this project is really time sensitive, and I’m under a lot of pressure to get it out the door by the end of the month.”
Bob’s basically ignoring the entirety of John’s communication and immediately focusing the conversation back to his own issue.
Bob: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Hope he is okay. Do you need to take some time off?”
At least here, Bob acknowledges there is an issue that John is working through. But by asking if he needs time off, he is inferring that maybe John can’t do the work that Bob needs him to do, and he should find a replacement.
Bob: “Wow. Do you want to talk about what the health issue is? I know how hard that can be.”
That’s better. Bob is just listening and opening the door to let John share more if he wants to. If not, at least he has given John some empathy. Bob knows that “health issues” could mean a broken toe, or it could mean terminal cancer. Either way, if it has caused John to miscommunicate at work, it’s probably a hardship. It’s not like he is going to Vegas every weekend and shirking his responsibilities.
My point here is that by listening first, you’ll have a better chance at understanding the true situation. Understanding is the absolute best tool you have when solving problems with other people. Sometimes the truth is buried deep, and it is up to you to dig it out. Your best shovel is a pair of open ears and a quiet mind. Shut up and listen.
Creative collaboration requires openness and then focused, uninterrupted concentration.
Most of us spend too much time consuming media and ingesting information. And certainly, lots of perspectives are useful when you’re trying to understand a problem. But once you have an idea for how to solve it, you need to turn off all inputs into your brain. You need to turn off the internet and lock yourself into a mental cave until the work is done. Or at least until it’s ready to show someone.
We all know now that too much information causes addiction. TED Talks, inspirational quotes, articles on Medium, Facebook “essays”—they’re like drugs. They give you a temporary high. It feels the same to your brain as if you discovered a secret trove of delicious berries in the wilderness.
When it’s time to get down to work, you can use John Cleese’s recipe for creativity. Give your mind time to wander.
“This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If you just keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious. You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures. It’s not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time. Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original. And learn to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.”John Cleese
The other side of creative collaboration is self-confidence.
“Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”John Cleese
This is as true in writing a good email to your boss as it is in making a feature film. It is especially important in meetings. Don’t ever feel ashamed to ask a question that might be perceived as stupid. And don’t ever feel your perspective on an issue isn’t needed or valuable. I know I’ve repeated a few times now that all perspectives are valid and valuable. That’s like, my perspective, man, and it’s valid and valuable.
Finally, to collaborate successfully, you need to have a sense of humor. Humor is a social lubricant, just like alcohol. It speeds up people’s willingness to open their minds.
“The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”John Cleese
Soldiers yearn for wartime. But it’s not because they miss fighting. It’s because during war, they were part of a close-knit family who took care of each other.
I’ve felt a closeness to my employees and local business owners the past few days that is hard to describe. Sure I’ve felt the same anxiety as everyone else recently, but I’ve also felt a peace. I believe that comes from the strength of a good network. Until recently, the network of small business owners, food and beverage producers, and restaurant and bar employees has been relatively invisible to the public. But like a network of roots that weave together beneath the forest floor, we are all connected and communicate. And now the soil is blowing away. The network is exposed.
It’s up to all of us to protect the health of our network. Our community is not a list of company names and logos. It is a closely connected network of human beings who care about each other in ways that we didn’t really understand until recently.If you’re in our industry and reading this, you feel it too. No further comment needed.
If you’re reading this as one of our customers, this is where you can make a difference. To be clear, owners of small businesses that are either barely profitable or losing money (read: most restaurants) are prepared to sacrifice everything to make sure our employees are taken care of. Do you feel financially secure enough to spend the cash that you might have spent in the coming 3 months on lunching out, grocery-store alcohol purchases, dinner date nights, or any of the other ways we interact with you economically? If so, now is the time to buy a $100-$300 gift card to your favorite lunch place or brewery. You’ll spend it over the coming year or so, and the cash will help keep hourly and part-time employees paid.
I’ve felt a clarity these past few days that I know has been echoed around our community. Humans inherently trust each other with our lives – it’s how society works. Our current mission is to help each other survive and thrive in the midst of a storm of weirdness.I reminded our staff earlier this week: Remember that you’re never alone. For every news story about something terrible, there are a million kind interactions between strangers that go unreported. We all rely on each other, and trust each other.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.Hunter Thompson
Take care of whomever you love, and embrace the coming weirdness. We’ll all be a stronger community because of it.