When our son Luke was about six months old, Bonni had one of those moments every parent cherishes.
She was strapping Luke into his car seat when he suddenly looked up and did something he had never done before. He looked right into her eyes and smiled. It wasn’t one of those coincidental moments either – it was the long, sustained eye contact that would warm any mother’s heart, accompanied by a genuine grin.
Bonni remembers that for about ten seconds, she felt more connected with our little boy than she had ever felt. She stopped and smiled back. It warmed her heart so beautifully.
And then she realized that he was simply smiling at his own reflection in her sunglasses.
The incident still makes both of us laugh, because it perfectly captured human nature on both sides of the interaction. Most of us are quick to think about ourselves in interactions with others, before considering the other party.
While most of us perceive ourselves to be caring, our actions don’t always align with these intentions. Since I’ve not yet learned how to work around human nature, I’ve done the next best thing and created some regular practices that will better align with how I want to show up in interactions.
Here are three practices I do that may help you as well:
1. Stop and Think
Like a lot of people in the workplace, I’m diligent about preparing for meetings and other professional interactions. However, I found over the years that others would often ask about me, my family, my career…much better than I would do for them.
After one too many of these interactions where people asked more about me than I did about them, I resolved to take a moment to stop and think about the other party when planning meetings. I vowed to ask people about something important to them that didn’t necessarily relate to the topic and hand (especially if I hadn’t seen them in some time).
My initial fears that I wouldn’t think of anything to say diminished after I tried this a few times. I discovered that I already knew a lot about people if I simply took the time to stop and think about what was going on in their careers and lives.
2. Check-in Reminders
I love the people I know who naturally think to call their colleagues, friends, and family members and check-in regularly to keep connections strong…especially since I’m not one of those people.
I know how important it is and like it when people do it for me. I just don’t tend to naturally think to do this or take regular action to reach out, unless prompted by some other reason (business, scheduling, holidays, etc.)
To challenge myself to take the action I want, I put a system of regular reminders in my OmniFocus task management system so that I remember to check-in with clients, colleagues, and friends on a somewhat regular basis.
The reminders and actions that follow help me to be more caring than I otherwise would be.
3. Capture Details
I work with people at Dale Carnegie who have amazing memories for names, events, and what’s happening in people’s lives – much better than I do. While I can almost always remember something about a person (see point #1) it’s not always the most important thing to them.
To get better at remembering what’s most important to others, I keep notes. I try hard to record the names of spouses, children, birthdays, and other important things to others when I hear them. I use my contacts app or Highrise to record these details so that the next time I connect, I can recall what’s most important.
I’m reminded often that the smallest action is worth more than the grandest intention. I’ve learned that my good intentions aside, the real way to be a caring person is to consistently use practices that help me follow-though to be the person I intend to be.
What consistent actions do you take in order to care better for others, either professionally and personally? Tell us in the comments below.