Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What are you thinking?

What a great question.
It's empowering. Among leaders, this question is one of the most helpful tools possible. It's offers a reprieve from the constant stress of trouble shooting and organizing, gives power to someone else and offers them an opportunity to shine. Leaders are not the only ones who think, they are just the final say. When someone is given the opportunity to give their own input, they are being given a chance to change something, hopefully for the better. They will feel more involved, mostly because they ARE more involved. and the chance to influence things becomes a driving force, a chain reaction of critical thinking and troubleshooting throughout the "ranks" is started. I think it's great. Ask someone what they think, and they will think more. When they think more, it eases your burden. If your job is to fix a structurally compromised skyscraper and you ask someone what they think, make sure it's not someone who will reply "COTTON CANDY!" (although that may be a great idea in other circumstances, it's just not as relevant in the proposed situation). And of course, it's on you (as a leader) to evaluate their thoughts and suggestions. you don't have to trust someone with their life to ask their views on the situation. (Especially not if its a toddler or sweet-toothed construction worker).

What are you thinking?

It means so many things. First of all it means that you care what someone has to say. (ok, actually, technically "first of all" it shows that you deem the person capable of thinking.) It shows that you want to hear it. It means that you're not going to dominate, it means you want to be on the same page, and the same level. It means you are open to constructive feedback. It means that whatever this person has to say, you asked for it, and you wont fault them for thinking it.

This question is possibly the most important question we can be asked. Because of the level of trust behind it. We are given the chance to divulge our inner selves, and we cannot betray that. Because what we are thinking is who we are.

It's not just a question, it's a charge for honesty, which bears a lot of weight. Sometimes this question catches us off guard. Maybe we are thinking the unthinkable. Maybe we're thinking that we have nothing to say. Maybe what we're thinking is too much to say. Maybe sometimes we aren't thinking at all. If we cannot answer, it's a sign to ourselves that we have room to grow, trust to earn, or more to be mindful of. Because your answer matters, one way or the other. silence is not a good answer for the person posing the question. In fact, I would say it's another question posed to yourself. It's a chance to analyze yourself, an opportunity to evaluate the status of your relationship to the person who wants to know what you think.

I propose that it's sometimes healthier to answer even when it doesn't feel good. If you are thinking critically of someone and they ask to hear it, would you feed them a white lie? Seems harmless, right? But think about it... lies beget lies. There are situations where bending the truth to spare someone a senseless criticism is perfectly fine (in my book). But practicing selective honesty is a good way to build a false pretense in your relationships with people, It's an easy habit to get into, and a pretty tough one to get out of. I think honesty should take priority over acceptance or approval. Don't tell someone you love them to spare them the pain of rejection. I used to tell people I was fine, just to keep from connecting on an emotional level with someone. I've seen countless times where someone will think one thing, but say another to validate someone who could have used the honesty.

If the primal desire of every person is to be understood, why do we cower? I think it has something to do with conditioning. We aren't exactly accustomed to people caring. Personally, it's disorienting to hear someone ask me what I think, or how I feel. I, probably along with most everyone else, require a certain level of trust before I am open to sharing my thoughts and emotions, to be sure they aren't discounted, discredited or dismissed. I think thats fine. I hope I am able to communicate assertively when I feel uncomfortable with sharing my thoughts.

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