We all like a hero story, and a very heroic idea is that our lives, our careers, our relationships (and sure, also our marketing efforts) will be memorable because of a few big moments.
There are two problems with this approach.
First, it sets a waiting attitude. We wait for something to happen, and even when we intentionally work to make it happen, the focus is always on that wonderful moment that will magically fix everything else.
Secondly, it makes us stop caring about the small things. The idea is that details or small items do not matter because they will not make an impact.
*This is, by the way, also the reason why we say yes so often. We measure the social downside of saying no against the tiny effort of saying yes to a short meeting, a tiny task, a small favour. While actually we should measure that against the long-term accumulation of small things that prevents us from achieving anything.*
It is the sum of small things that gives purpose and meaning.
When all you hear is one story, that one story is going to be your reality.
This is what happens to all of us, more often than we like to admit. It happens when we get stuck in a bias. It happens when we feel everything is wrong. It happens when we are sure we will succeed this time. It happens when others are an unknown “they”.
We need to make an effort to be listening to at least a second story. And then a third, a fourth, a fifth ..
The fact is, nowadays there is no excuse for us not to do that with intention.
When a situation is about to escalate, be ready to do two things.
First, be ready to have a difficult conversation face to face. You can’t send an email, you can’t text, you can’t use the chat. In certain circumstances, you may still be able to use the phone, but be prepared when possible to meet face to face (or camera to camera in today’s world).
Second, be ready to concede. You will not get out of it if you put your foot down, if you want to win it all, if you are not open to be proven, at least in part, wrong.
But before that, how do you know a situation is about to escalate?
You feel it. You understand something is not right when you feel you are getting agitated, when you sense that being right is becoming more important than the outcome, when any minor event gets charged of unrealistic importance. So much so that you have to tell somebody or do something right away.
You have the power to defuse such incredibly dangerous situation, do not get sucked into them.
You do not have to be a master to mentor. You do not have to be the best at what you do, neither you need to be an expert in what you do. You might have a passion, but that is just a like most of the time. You might feel competent and knowledgeable, but if you are completely honest that’s probably not how you feel in most cases.
If you believe any of the above is necessary to mentor, you are telling yourself a false story, you are giving up to resistance, you are pushing back something you would genuinely benefit from.
They do not fade once you are done saying them. They keep floating, and those who have heard them carry them around for an indefinite amount of time. They change in meaning. They change in strength. They change in effect.
Often they are still there once we have forgotten them. They might even become drivers for actions we later fail to understand. To our own misery.
The act of saying is anything but final. It’s a step in a process of reciprocal understanding, and we rarely do a good job with our own part.
Despite the fact we have never used it more, communication is fragile. Starting from the assumption it is not going to work is an easy way to become better at it.