How to Find the Person Behind the Professional

Posted 10.31.2016

What difference would it make if you really knew the people you work with every day? Not just knowing what they do at work and maybe one or two facts about their life outside of work, but what they really care about, are passionate about, worry about or laugh about? What difference would it make if you could find the person behind the professional?

Chances are you’d connect with them more deeply, trust them more fully and work with them more productively. What you’d likely do less of is make up stories about why they do what they do. As you know, nature abhors a vacuum. The same is true with relationships. In the absence of real knowledge or information, we tend to fill the space by making stuff up. That rarely leads to positive outcomes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal connection after guiding a group of corporate managers through a day-long session last week on the topic of Leading At Your Best. As I often do at the beginning of a day-long small group workshop, I asked everyone to re-introduce themselves to each other by sharing where they grew up, how many siblings they have and talk about the biggest challenge of their childhood. As I’ve written here before, this opening created by Pat Lencioni quickly establishes a deeper connection among people who have perhaps worked together for years without ever knowing these kinds of facts about each other. It builds trust because it quickly establishes at least one thing that everyone in the room has in common — they were all kids once.

Over the course of the day, we worked a lot on listening and understanding how it can help you lead at your best. Some of that listening was transactional listening where we used simple coaching frameworks to help solve work-related problems or identify the next couple of steps required to leverage an opportunity. That was useful for everyone, but the real light bulb switcher was when we took time for transformational listening. As I describe in Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, transformational listening is listening with no other agenda than to connect with and learn more about the other person. In the case of the workshop last week, I asked the participants to spend four minutes listening to a colleague talk about something in their life that they’re grateful for. After three rounds of those brief conversations, the sense of connection in the room was palpable. Much like the experience of being a child, almost everyone has at least a few things in their life for which they feel grateful. It’s a common human experience and reference point. As one person said in the debrief, the transformational listening helped them find the person behind the professional.

The group expressed a bit of wonder at how deeply they connected with each other in three brief conversations. They realized that the good news is it doesn’t require a two-hour dinner and a bottle of wine to get to know someone in a more meaningful way. You can do a lot in ten focused minutes and a few questions that make it easy for people to talk. With thanks to the Museum Hack website, here are ten questions that can help you find the person behind the professional:

  • What’s your favorite place of all the places you’ve travelled?
  • If you were immortal, what age would you choose to stop aging at and why?
  • What was the worst job you ever had?
  • If you could choose any two famous people to have dinner with who would they be?
  • If you could change places with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
  • If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?
  • If you could eliminate one thing from daily routine, what would it be and why?
  • What was your favorite game to play as a child?
  • What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
  • When you die, what do you want to be remembered for?

 

What other ideas do you have for finding the person behind the professional?