Monday, November 9, 2009

Keep to yourself, or break your "flow"?

Some of you responded to my previous post that you were better able to engage with strangers when in a positive mood. Someone else said they didn't think they were that good at it, and someone said they couldn't do it if they didn't have time. I think that's it - we are perennially out of time, or at least we have convinced ourselves that our time is better spent taking care of business or doing something else.

Again Beth, thank you for the question and the fodder for further discussion:
“Where and when did it become so important to keep to one’s self? When did all strangers become bad?”

When life got busier and more complex for most of us, and we are unaccustomed to the stresses it creates. The promise of technology freeing us and creating more leisure time has not happened. People are impatient, stressed out, forever multi-tasking and left with little time to enjoy others around them. It’s all true, and it’s reality today, but people, turn it off! Flip the switch and give yourself a break and some space to connect with the person beside you.

Today in the grocery store I watched a young mother with her two boys, one was probably three, and his younger brother was maybe just two and having a melt down at the yogurt fridge. As he was melting down she was saying, “Time out. You are having a time out,” and she was sending a text message on her iPhone at the same time, really only 1/3 paying attention to her hysterical son. I arrived too late to see the precipitating incident but I did see him slapping her iPhone and yelling “No Mommy.” Who knows if he was mad because she was ignoring him or some other reason.

Then I got to the check-out stand and the man behind me was having a conversation on his cell phone, ignoring the person behind him who was straining to reach past him to grab the latest issue of Time magazine. Ironic I thought.

There is no down time.
We are on the go constantly. We “short cut” with friends we know well when telling stories, and don’t have the patience for those who can’t keep up. I do it, and I see it everywhere.
If I’m in line at the store on a stop on the way home I don’t want to be “interrupted” by having to converse with the person behind me. I just want to grab my bag of cat litter and head home. God help the slow driver in the parking lot making the 3-point turn to get into a spot if they are behind me when I’m ready to leave!

Strangers have become “bad” perhaps because they get in the way of our flow. And we’ve let our flow become paramount – arrogant almost, and anything that interrupts it is a nuisance to be avoided. I even see it in the coffee room at work and that makes me very sad.

We can learn a lot by interrupting our own flow and getting into someone else’s. I made up a customer service game a couple years back that I named “Walk in their shoes”. I found pictures of tons of different types of shoes, cut them out and laminated them into cards, then challenged members of our front line teams to grab a card blindly and create a story about the person whose shoes they were, then get into character and “live” that story. The other members of the team had to stay open, flexible and accepting, ready to deal with whatever the story was the person “wearing the shoes” brought in that day. It was amazing how hard it was to get outside our own preconceived space, and in this case a “script” to really listen, and engage with another person’s story.

Take a moment, slow down, and connect with each other. I’m thankful for the things I discover when I do.

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