If you could see behind their eyes

June 28, 2022

A few days ago, I had a terribly unnerving experience. While on a Target run, I noticed a young man with a camera walking around the store videotaping people. It was odd and discomforting. As I turned the corner at the end of an aisle, I was confronted by another young man who said, “I saw you steal something.” I rolled my eyes and replied, “No, I didn’t.”  As I turned to walk away, there was video guy right behind me, filming this encounter. It escalated. The kid who accused me kept following and provoking me about my “shoplifting” (by the way, I hadn’t, but you probably guessed that) while camera dude kept filming. Long story short… even while I sought the store manager the two jerks kept it up, demanding I empty my pockets. Finally, the store security guy got involved, apologized to me and invited me to go on my way. I assume he then asked the idiots (presumably YouTubers) to leave. But the damage was done. I was shaken up. I still am.

The thing is, you would never know how distraught I was because I stuffed it and tried to go on with my life. I conducted a workshop the very next day, and I’m sure the participants were clueless as to what was going on inside me.

Here’s my point. Rarely do we see what is going on behind the eyes of the people we work with or care about. Your employees, your family, your people…all of them face jarring experiences in life…some more than others. They carry their agitation, sadness or fear around while gamely trying to act normally and do their job. It doesn’t always work, and many times their performance suffers. And it bothers you, because you expect quality, timely work. You want them to function well. It’s just that they can’t.

If only you could see behind their eyes.

Perhaps there are some ways to do that…to understand what is going on more deeply within the lives of our people, to care about it and offer some help. Here are some suggestions.

First, work on your empathy. I wrote about the importance of a leader’s empathy last week. Here are two simple ways to increase your empathy. One – pay attention to people. Notice them. Hang out more often. Watch and observe body language. Two – listen and ask good questions. By the way, the best listening always includes follow up questions.

Second, don’t immediately assume the worst in your people. Yes, they may be messing up, but take the time to determine whether their poor work, tardiness, distraction, or procrastination has deeper roots than just laziness.

Third, hold regular check-ins, not just at the annual review. My friend Jim Henderson has designed a check-in system 3Q check in that is worth investigating. Jim suggests, “Most bosses just aren’t very good at it. This is not because bosses don’t want to develop and support the people who report to them. For a lot of leaders and managers, consistent, substantive check-ins are a soft skill that’s very hard.”

Finally, when you are able to look behind their eyes and sense the thing that is agitating them, causing anxiety, fear or depression, help them think through ways to address it.

What if we all could see behind the eyes of our people, our family or our loved ones?  Would we be more patient? Would we be more kind? Would we be more helpful?

I think we would.

Note: This is part one of a summer-long series on the ways leaders and influencers can learn to be more pro-human as they manage and care for their people. Please feel free to forward this on to someone you know who would benefit. And, if you’d like to invite them to join my newsletter community and receive these posts to their inbox, here’s a link to sign up and receive a gift post – 4 Signs You’re at a Crossroads in Your Life and What to do About It.




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