Unexpected Insight

I had been in my last job for a couple months when the division director left. As he was leaving, he gave all his direct reports an unofficial, not written down performance appraisal. He wanted to share insights with each of us. It was not part of our permanent record and simply done out of a genuine desire for us to improve. What he told me was life changing.

He said that since he had had a little time to get to know me, he knew that I did accept new ideas and would adapt them to the situation. He was impressed by that. He then warned me, however, that initially I came across as not being receptive.

Because of his presentation, I did not feel defensive, and I didn’t feel the need to immediately refute what he had just said. I told him that I was glad he was able to see that I really am open to new ideas, and I asked him for an example of a situation where I was giving off the negativity vibe. He was able to provide one! In thinking back to that moment, what was going through my mind was, “Hmmmmmmmmm. How would that work?” but unfortunately for my conveying my real point-of-view, my thinking face looks like my disbelieving face (yes, I did check this out in the bathroom mirror afterwards, and that was truly the case!).

Thinking Cartoon Image
Even with the cartoon you can't tell if he's angry or just pondering!

He didn’t have to do this. He could have simply come in on his last day, said his goodbyes, eaten cake, and left. Instead he took the time to help.

My whole meeting with him took less than ten minutes, and it forever changed how I handle receiving new information. Now, when a new idea comes across, I say, “I’ve never thought of doing it that way. How would that work?” This normally starts a brainstorming session, and either a better way of doing things is created or there were interconnected parts of the status quo that are revealed. I now outwardly convey what is going on inside. It matches.

Whenever I think about this situation, I realize two very important things that I try to duplicate. First, how you present the information is just as important (sometimes more so) than what is actually said. Because it was a relaxed environment and there were no repercussions associated with the meeting, I wasn’t defensive. I believed that he was telling me this to help me improve. Secondly,use your words! My facial expressions do not convey what they think they are conveying, and people can’t read my mind.

What was the most influential advice you have ever received?

8 thoughts on “Unexpected Insight”

  1. I love this. Like you, I really appreciate it when someone makes the time to offer valuable, well thought out advice. What a cool guy. And I love how you took it and made it life changing. We don’t stop learning when we leave school.

    Great story!

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  2. to keep a sense of humor. I can tend to be too contemplative and the advice was from my mother – who has lived with painful, debilitating arthritis and other maladies – but she’s turning 80 this year and has sass and spunk and keep “hip” – much attributable to her sense of humor.

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    1. What a wonderful lesson to learn! Like you, I tend to get caught up in my own head. How wonderful that she is still sassy at 80 despite the pain. What a role model!!!!!

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  3. A great post once again. Non-verbals are such a major part of communication, but as you show here, the perception of our non-verbals is open to individual interpretation. How nice that someone was willingly to talk with you in a friendly manner and that you were willing to step back and see it from his angle. I have a terrible, and I mean terrible, flash temper that causes me to open my mouth before I engage my brain and I have struggled with that for years. I’m better than I used to be, but still distant from what I should be. Thanks for the reminder that we can modify our reactions.

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    1. The fact that you know about your temper and want to change is half the battle. Good for you for continuing to make an effort … and for acknowledging the progress you have already made! So many people simply say that that characteristic is part of them and everyone else needs to accommodate it. Your story also demonstrates that we can modify our reactions, and that it takes an effort on our part.

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  4. When I was about 19, my father and I went out for a beer, and he told me that I didn’t know Sh–.

    It was life changing, just like your experience- and I never really got over it. He said it in a nice way, by the way.

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    1. It’s amazing that at 19 you were receptive to that message. I knew so much more then than I do now (at least the 19-year-old me thought so). I don’t know that I could have heard the equivalent of your dad’s message or absorb it. I’m impressed that you were mature enough to grasp its significance!

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