What’s It Like Where You Are?

The other evening I spoke with a friend who’s moved to Wales. He’s in the valleys. I’ve never been to Wales. So, naturally, I asked the obvious question: “What’s it like where you are?”

When you’re talking with someone whom you know is in a different place than you, it’s normal to ask that question. Especially if it’s a place you’ve never been before. Beyond being polite, you’re usually genuinely curious to learn more about their world.

Here’s the thing.

Everyone is in a different place to you. You’ve never been where they are.

Yes, you might be employed by the same organisation. You might even have done the same job. And you might have some similar interests.

Yet, they have different experiences, different stuff to deal with, and different perspectives. They look at the world through a different lens to you.

So when we say “Oh I know what it’s like for them”, we don’t really.

We have no real clue.

If we want to get good work done together, most of the time we can’t just rush straight into the work. We need to connect first. Not so we can get all woo-woo. It’s to understand where people are at, so we can clear the path to get on with what matters together.

Of course, there are genuine situations where efficiency or other factors outweigh the need for making a personal connection first. A perceived lack of time is a common reason for not making the time to connect. Yet more often than not, it turns out that we get a better quality outcome by investing just a little more time to connect.

The most effective leaders have strengths in getting work done and fostering strong relationships. They adeptly balance both. In doing so, their leadership effectiveness has a significant, positive impact on business performance. They know that to achieve sustained results and sustained wellbeing, people first need to feel seen and heard.

There’s a saying ‘mihi before mahi’. This is derived from two Māori words ‘mihi’ (to greet) and ‘mahi’ (the work). Another way of putting it is ‘connection before content’. 

The Zulu have a powerful word: sawubona. It means “I see you.” In that one word, it says, “I see the whole of you—your experiences, your passions, your pain, your strengths and weaknesses, and your future. You are valuable to me.” (Source

Connecting doesn’t have to be all touchy-feely. Here are three questions you can ask to connect and then get into the work:

  • How’s your world right now?
  • What’s one word to describe how you’re showing up?
  • What’s most important to you about this work?

When we ask, in whatever way, “what’s it like where you are?” we show that we care. And when people know that we care, we’re paving the way to do better work together.

For more like this, check out:

The Old Man on the Plane

Five B’s for Thriving at Work

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