I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ability to interact with other people. People skills are incredibly valuable, both in your career and personal life.
One factor that gets in the way is feeling intimidated by other people because of their role, background, or another factor.
I’ll give you an example from my life.
At various points in my life, I’ve felt intimidated at the thought of speaking to Fortune 500 CEOs, homeless people, and supermodels.
Working at McKinsey cured me of being intimidated to speak to CEOs. Truly they are just people with a job title that just happens to have three letters in it.
The last two years, I’ve been doing a fair amount of volunteering with the homeless population around Seattle. I volunteered at an outdoor soup kitchen for a dozen weekends, my kids and I have made hundreds of turkey and cheese sandwiches for the homeless, I've given money to specific individuals I’ve met on the streets, and last weekend I went with friends to hand out 100 bags of supplies (toothbrushes, toothpaste, food, water) to those who needed them.
Over the years, I’ve gotten handshakes, hugs, fist bumps, and beaming smiles from those I’ve interacted with. I’ve had lighthearted and fun conversations with them — not much different than the conversations I've had with students from Ivy League schools.
Over time, I’ve realized that homeless people are... well... people.
I know it’s grammatically and intellectually obvious, but I KNOW this to be true through direct experience — and for some reason I think that matters.
(I haven’t met any supermodels in my time, but I’m going to guess they are people too.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about this intimidation factor — both what causes it and why it’s an obstacle to connecting with other people effectively.
Intimidation comes from the story we tell ourselves about the other person.
For me, the root cause of intimidation has come from a paradigm of seeing people through a "better than" / "less than" paradigm.
Fortune 500 CEOs and supermodels? Oh they’re “better than” me — or so I thought.
For the homeless people, I had an attitude of being “better than” them for much of my life. I also had a significant fear of interacting with homeless people — a fear of the unknown.
(I thought maybe they were dangerous, violent, or mentally ill — or something along those lines. I’ve found 98% of the time that’s not the case, and a big clue for me has been looking at their eyes and behaviors. By the way, what I’ve noticed many homeless people value -- more than any one physical object -- is being seen, noticed, and not ignored.)
The problem with seeing other people through either a better than or less than perspective is that it gets in the way of seeing the actual human being inside the persona we’re expecting to see from others.
It also creates a barrier to allowing others to see the actual person you are as well.
As I recently taught in my Self-Esteem Class, any time you put a better than / less than layer between you and others, you create a barrier to genuine human connection.
I think this is a problem.
Some people only “notice” others who are “worth” noticing. These are the “social climbers” who only give their attention to so-called “important” people.
The thought is that logically this is a more efficient use of energy and more likely to lead to achieving one’s social objectives.
The downside is two-fold.
First, you miss out on many opportunities to relate to others along the way.
Second, people can tell that you don’t really care about them; you only care about what they can do for you. They won’t trust you (because you haven’t earned it), and the lack of trust will also limit the depth of the relationship.
So what’s the secret to being able to connect genuinely and authentically with others?
What's the secret to building a network of contacts that will help you?
What’s the secret to building friendships with people that would stand by your side when times get tough?
The secret to building genuine relationships without the "better than" / "less than" dynamic is simple.
DO NOT JUDGE.
Do not judge others as to their “worth,” status, or station in life.
Do not judge yourself as better than or less than anybody else in this world.
Sure, there will be DIFFERENCES between you and others. One of you will certainly earn more than the other. One of you will have a higher GPA than the other. One of you will be higher profile than the other.
There will always be differences.
But the key is this:
We are all equal in our HUMANITY.
If someone we love dies, we grieve to the depths of our souls. A rich person grieves no differently than a poor one.
If we accomplish something we never thought possible, we feel joy and elation. The joy of a Fortune 500 CEO is no different than the joy of a high-school dropout.
If we work hard and fail, the agony of defeat is crushing. A homeless person that feels defeated feels it no differently than a Harvard graduate does.
When we are told we are dying and have 6 months to live, the supermodel takes the news no differently than the waitress at the local restaurant.
The one common bond we all share is the human emotional experience.
There is no hierarchy, no social status, and no ranking for:
The only thing that gets in the way of seeing one another at this level is...
"I am not good enough."
"She is not good enough."
"He’s not worth my time."
"I’m not worth her time."
"He earns more than me; he’s more important than me."
"I went to Harvard; I’m better than her."
When we judge ourselves and others, we create a fog that makes it hard to see what is shared between all of us... our humanity.
When we don’t see each other’s humanity, we can not connect genuinely with one another.
The key to it all is simple:
Do Not Judge.