Why not make a difference when you can?
How to use simple observation skills to make someone’s day
A few experiences recently have reminded me how important this is.
I had my weekly ‘thinking morning’ in my favourite coffee shop earlier this week. New staff member is there, just finishing her training. I’m writing notes but also got my ears open and she asks the manager about the plants around the cafe. The manager says that watering the plants is on the roster, but that nobody really knows anything else about them. New staff member looks around and says: “They’re all succulents, simplest plant in the world to take care of. I’ll look after them.”
Of course, my spidey-sense is really tingling now, because here’s somebody who’s just revealed both an expertise and a sense of purpose. I decide to buy an extra coffee as an excuse to open a conversation: “I heard you mention succulents – sounds like you know your stuff about plants?”
This simple bit of listening and initial nosiness was all it took for me to hear this woman’s life-story and how this was a stop-gap job until she could work as a florist. And you can tell when just hearing someone like this, being witness to their hopes is big deal! All the succulents were well looked after and sung to that morning.
Last month I had lunch with a friend who I first met as a business acquittance a few years ago. He never misses a chance to ask if I remember what I said to him back then, during what was then a tough time for him. I don’t really remember what I said, but I do remember the impression I got of him at the time, which was of someone just hanging-on by his fingertips, with the strain showing, but also with this little flame flickering inside him, of something very important he wanted to fulfil. Just looking at the way he stood and a simple bit of listening about what he was trying to achieve was enough to reveal all of this.
The way he tells it, it went something like this:
Him: “I’m not sure if I can take this anymore, and I’m at the end of my tether“.
Me: “Sometimes, all it takes to turn things around is just hanging-on a little bit more“.
And it seems that simple homily was enough, because now he does exactly what that little flame was all about.
Then an email arrives from a former client, somebody I coached nearly 15 years ago. It’s to tell me how they’ve just made the next giant step towards realising a business plan we first crafted, on a beer mat (it’s a long story, but I kept a supply of them back then for doing just that…) , all that time ago. The email includes the line: “Do you remember when you asked me about X? That was the real turning point for me.”
Again, I don’t really remember what I said. But I remember thinking about how strong and determined this person was.
So, this is my really important learning.
That there are opportunities to say and do things which make a huge difference for people, just waiting around for us to grasp them. And that people will remember you did this for years and years.
All it takes is a simple bit of observation, listening to what they’re saying, taking in all the other impressions you have of this person. And reflecting back something true about them.
As it’s so possible to do this, why not do it whenever you can?