We’re executive coaches. Our clients are seasoned leaders and experts in their fields; many at the pinnacle of their careers. They are CEOs, vice presidents and directors from a wide array of industries and sectors. Need we say they are a formidable, capable and highly intelligent lot; with superpowers that can solve the gnarliest of business challenges, bend steel in their bare hands…
But don’t get too excited. Lest we forget, there’s kryptonite--the one substance that weakens the most super of supermen and superwomen and renders them… not so super.
The substance from which few are immune
The Other is someone thought to be different from oneself. You know, the Other. The colleague you can’t respect no matter how much you try. The manager who makes you angry, frustrated or hopeless. The subordinate you avoid dealing with, work-around or give-up on.
The process of Othering is as pervasive as it is weakening. It’s kryptonite for leaders because when we ossify the beliefs and stories we tell ourselves about other people, our good energy gets distorted and diverted. We lose clarity, focus, good-will, and ultimately our sense of leadership.
Of course, there will always be a wide diversity of personalities and communication styles. Some people we naturally affiliate with and others not. But when we conclude that someone is just ‘bad’ or ‘wrong,’ ‘ineffective’ or ‘scary,’ we reduce him or her to a one-dimensional figure. When this occurs the relationship inevitably deteriorates, conflicts cycle and your ability to influence goes down the drain.
So when you are at risk (and we all are at certain moments) of believing someone is less human or less worthy of respect….stop…take a breath and remember:
- All of us are complex humans: Everyone is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes and priorities. Nobody is as simplistic as you may perceive him or her to be.
- Turn on your curiosity: Get curious about the ‘other.’ Be willing to ask open-ended questions and excavate even those things you find threatening or irritating. You’ll likely discover something that contradicts your fixed perceptions. Then the trick is being open and willing to change your mind.
- Gaze in the mirror: If you look hard enough you may find a tiny, little piece of you that’s similar to the person that disturbs you. Perhaps you’ve behaved in similar ways. The connection may be subtle and hard to recognize and you’ll likely feel resistant to recognizing it. However, we generally get triggered (and ‘othering’ is a consequence of being triggered) by people who reflect some dimension of who we are.
- Get to know your limits, boundaries and fears. We often freeze into ‘othering’ people when we’re scared. We don’t know what to do; we’re at our limits and have run out of tricks, ideas, skills and patience. Rather than feed and indulge the story about the ‘other,’ focus on yourself and your own sense of limitation, fear or lack of knowledge. You’ll likely discover something valuable.
- Let the cream rise to the top. When you look at people as good, worthy and valuable, they will have the greatest chance of bringing forth their best and highest selves. What you put your attention on naturally flowers. Not only will others do better under your friendly gaze but you’ll likely feel better about yourself as well.