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Trust is at the core of all positive and productive relationships. We build trust with both colleagues and friends through spending time together. However, at work, we tend to stay professional and remain on the surface with our colleagues rather than revealing much about who we really are. This means that we can work beside the same people for years without getting to know our colleagues’ character. What if there’s a way to take just 20 minutes to build the kind of trust that normally takes months or even years?
A client of mine named Mary Johnson found out how to let her core character shine through a group exercise called “Paired Introduction,” which culminated in having a partner introduce her. After interviewing Mary, her partner told this story:
“When packing for a trip to Australia, you normally think of taking your swimsuit, sunglasses, and sunblock. However, for Mary, her most prized possession for the trip is a binder. The binder contains all the well-planned details of the trip – where to go, what to do, what time to do it and where to eat. She takes this step because the unknown can be scary.”
Even though Mary was once scared of the unknown in her career, others have encouraged her to accept talents she had been afraid to embrace. “Now,” said Mary’s interview partner, “Mary helps support low-income children at her organization by giving them planning tools to overcome their unknowns.”
Mary’s hiring manager, who was in the room when Mary’s partner shared this story, said, “Those characteristics are exactly why we hired you, it just took many interviews to figure it out.”
Mary was lucky that the hiring team persevered long enough to figure out that she is not only no longer afraid of the unknown but able to give others tools to overcome their unknowns. Imagine if Mary had walked into her first job interview and shared a story that revealed her character! It only took her partner in the Paired Introduction exercise twenty minutes to craft this story.
In our careers, we put our credentials and competences front-and-center in our resumes, but very few of us have considered revealing our character. When people sit down together– be they complete strangers or long-time colleagues– and ask each other story-collecting questions, their essential character begins to rise to the surface. I like to use this set of questions, called “Crazy Good Questions” because they prompt people to share a story that is personal and authentic, but is not private.
Here’s how I’ve seen things change when people understand each other’s character through an exercise like this.
- Realize untapped talents. Having someone tell your story in their own words means that you get their perspective. For example, another client told the story about a time in kindergarten when she stood up to a group of sixth graders. Her whole life, she’d thought of it as an example of taking care of herself. Not until she had someone else tell her story did she get a different perspective. Her partner called it “courageous problem solving”! Her partner then outlined how this kindergartner methodically and bravely laid out a plan, got her friends involved, and then secured the backing of her teacher to stand up to a group of kids twice her age and size! It was more than defending herself–it was some incredibly brave problem-solving!
- Manage interpersonal conflict. Conflicts can’t be avoided but can be managed. The most effective way to manage conflicts is understanding others’ stories, especially those belonging to the people you are in conflict with. Someone I know was struggling to make the right business decisions with his business partner under extreme time pressure. Scheduling calls and meetings was difficult because of the partner’s family obligations. Complicating things even further was that the partner is an exercise nut. She works out five times a week. But why does she do that? Once the business partner could understand that, he knew the context for why she sticks to this routine. This is exactly the kind of information a story-collecting exercise can reveal.
- Grow. Tasked with re-writing my bio, I had a colleague interview and write about me first. She helped me remember that I used to hate my Chinese name. Until that moment, I had not realized that this name said a great deal about my character and my parents’ aspirations for me. The name they chose revealed that they always believed in me 100%. This is the kind of realization that can lead to personal and professional growth.
Having people find and tell each other’s stories can serve utilitarian purposes for introducing a keynote speaker, doing team building or networking, or revamping your company’s bio page. But underneath those purposes is a quest for something that is too often neglected in the business world: getting to understand other people in a meaningful way.
March 3, 2019 at 05:13PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs