Posted by: Kristen Ridley | October 17, 2014

People Lessons Learned

PeopleLately I’ve been reflecting on people. The team I work in has been experiencing a larger than normal amount of change recently, and as the communications person, I’ve had a role to play in helping people manage that, both a formally and informally. This has reminded me of a few basic truths that I think are worth noting because not only are they, I believe, universal, but also they will help anyone who interacts with people [and is there anyone who doesn’t?!] to be a little more successful if we keep them in mind as we go about our daily work.

Most people mean well – frequently people do things that to other people may *appear* to be intentionally irritating or difficult. But my experience has proven that 9 times out of 10 those actions are in no way about you [or in this case, me]. The vast majority of the time, other people are just trying to get the things done that they need to do. The truth of the matter is that for most of us, and most of the time, it’s all about US! We are only really thinking about what we need to do, when we need to do it, and how to navigate the inevitable obstacles to doing it that we face. Nowhere in that list are we thinking about how our doing those things will affect other people around us, unless those people are directly related in some way to us, i.e. family or friends. This isn’t in any way malicious! It’s just a factor of our crazy-busy world and the multiple competing demands on all of us.

Lesson: don’t automatically assume malicious intent from someone’s behaviour. Give people the benefit of the doubt and ask for clarification before reacting.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about – this is a famous quote attributed to Plato, but I have found it to be surprisingly true almost across the board. Particularly in a work setting, most people try to behave in a professional way. Our society frowns on bringing any personal issues into the workplace, so generally people don’t. But just because it isn’t politically correct to talk about your sick child, or your elderly parent, or the financial difficulties, or a myriad of other issues at work, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t weighing on someone’s mind, and affecting the way they interact with people they come into contact with.

Lesson: be kind to others, even when that is not your automatic response to something. It costs you nothing, and could mean a world of difference to someone who is struggling.

 It isn’t a crime not to instantly understand everything – in the corporate world, where I have spent most of my communications career, everything always moves extremely quickly. The demands on employees are endless, complex and challenging. If someone is only expected to do their own particular work, that is the exception rather than the rule. Instead, most people are required to do their day-to-day work, participate on special [often unexpected] projects, provide information to colleagues as requested, and any number of “other duties as required”. Is it any wonder that people may struggle to digest all the things they are asked to understand? Sometimes we forget that not everyone takes in information at the same pace and become annoyed when someone asks more questions, or requests more detail. Instead, let’s see that as the opportunity it is – this is our people WANTING TO GET IT! The very fact that people care enough to tell us that they don’t quite understand means they care enough to ask, which is great news!

Lesson: provide more explanation, not less, and do so graciously. Sometimes people need a little more time, or a little more detail to fully grasp what we may be asking of them. Try to be patient, and help people to get where you need them to go by giving them as much information, as much detail, and as much explanation as they need. It will benefit everyone in the long run to help people help the business to be successful.

You don’t know everything – sometimes when you are in the position of having access to more information than the average employee does, you can fall into the trap of thinking you know it all, that you know best. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 15+ years in the corporate world, it’s that there is ALWAYS more for me to learn, and anyone could be the teacher I need. No matter how much information we have, we still can’t know everything all the time. There are always going to be aspects of a situation that the people in the trenches, who are actually doing the work will have a better handle on than you do. They are hands-on with whatever it is, so if they offer you a different perspective, or more information to consider, LISTEN!

Lesson: everyone has something to share that could add value. Cultivate an attitude of humility and openness, so that people feel comfortable offering information to you. Become that person everyone feels they can talk to about anything. As a communicator, there is no greater gift than having this kind of reputation.

Your sense of humour is the most important tool you’ll ever have – the world has become a complicated and often difficult place and if you are anything like me, there are days when you despair for the continuation of our species! But despair is a depressing place to live, so I make a conscious effort to look for and enjoy things to smile or laugh about every day. Even if the extent of that is a quick look at a Dilbert comic, or Facebook videos of kittens and puppies, finding something to uplift your day can make a world of difference in your overall ability to maintain equilibrium in the face of challenges. Personally, I like to laugh at myself, and there are multiple opportunities to do that on a daily basis, I assure you!

Lesson: Find those things that make you feel happy, as long as it isn’t at the expense of others, and lean on them when tough times come along. Laughter truly is the best medicine for almost everything. It’s hard to feel bad when you are enjoying a full-on belly laugh.

So these are the lessons I’ve learned that have helped me to maintain serenity – most days! – in the face of challenges. I hope one or two of them will help others as well.

Being a collector of quotes, it seemed appropriate to end this post with one of my favourites, from Mother Teresa, which fits the subject at hand quite well:

People are often unreasonable, and self-centered; FORGIVE THEM ANYWAY. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives; BE KIND ANYWAY. If you are honest people may deceive you; BE HONEST ANYWAY. If you find happiness people may be jealous; BE HAPPY ANYWAY. The good you do may be forgotten tomorrow; DO GOOD ANYWAY. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; GIVE YOUR BEST ANYWAY.

Okay, your turn! What people lessons have you learned, that the rest of us could add to our toolkits? Please comment and share your ideas.


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