Monday, March 15, 2010

How to be a Human Being

Your humanity is not a liability.

Being a robot, however, might lose your company money.

Today we’re going to talk about being a human being.

Which, after extensive research, is something I’ve discovered can be surprisingly difficult for many people – myself included.

Einstein once said, “Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison of self-delusion by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Well, that sounds easy. Thanks a lot, Big Al.

Perhaps these suggestions will help:

1. Resist compartmentalizing people. Especially into convenient little personality boxes or oversimplified categories. Personality tests and “type” assessments frustrate me. Sure, it’s helpful in office situations and team projects. As long as you’re not reducing a human being named Randy to a label named ENFJ.

People want to be called by their name – not their score. People want to be treated as human beings – not statistics, not acronyms and not categories. Of course, this all depends on what you see when you see people. Do you see people as individuals to be cared for and enjoyed or objects to be manipulated and controlled?

2. Love your limits, liabilities, trespasses and shadows. Assess, take ownership of, and exert your vulnerabilities. You’ll find that endorsing your own weakness establishes your acceptance of the imperfect humanness of others. What’s more, when you let previously disregarded aspects of yourself come to the surface and acknowledge and embrace all aspects of who you are – people relax.

Plus, you give them permission to reciprocate. For example: I have no sense of direction, I used to litter constantly, I recently had six cavities filled, I’m useless when it comes to details, and I couldn’t change a tire if Al Qaeda was jamming an oozy against my temple. Just a few of my liabilities. How willing are you to share yours?

3. Crying demonstrates alignment. Bodies are barometers. And emotion is the final arbiter of truth. If tears are flowing, so is honesty. Lesson learned: Turning on the water works isn’t a crime. (Unless you’re trying to cry your way out of a speedy ticket, in which case, I hate you.)

Look, don’t hold the tears back. More importantly, never, EVER apologize for starting to cry. That’s what most people do instinctively: They say they’re sorry.

For what? Being honest? Being open? Being a human? Dude, it’s cool. Let it out, brother. All we’re going to do is respect you more. Unless you start dribbling snot on people. Then we have a sanitary problem. When was the last time you cried in the presence of other people?

4. Respond to the human need first. “Front desk – may I help you?” “Help! There’s an aggressive cobra in my bathtub!” “I’m sorry sir, but our hotel policy is not to negotiate with reptiles. Have a nice day.”

Ouch. Wrong need. Lesson learned: Before policies, before protocols, before anything, isolate the universal human need – in this case, death – and use that as your baseline point of response. Everything else can wait. Cobras are serious. Are you treating the problem or the person?

5. Understand, sympathize and empathize for the complexities of the human condition. Your humanity is marked (not) by your elevation above people, but your identification with them. Now, that doesn’t mean you pretend to be one of them. That actually works in reverse.

People can smell contrived connection like a wet dog. Instead, to express sympathy and empathy through the following formula: “Kathy, I have no idea what it takes to (x). What I DO know is how it feels to (y).” Are you trying to hard to relate to people?

6. If you see people bleeding, don’t pretend they aren’t really hurting. Like the homeless veteran with the cardboard sign: You don’t have to give him your life savings – but at least acknowledge the guy. I’m reminded of a 2005 article from Law Enforcement News called, “Approaching Invisible People.”

“You know who they are. They are the homeless wandering the alleyways mumbling. They are the preachers on the street corners declaring they are Jesus Christ. They are the ‘invisible’ people the public ignores, but as law enforcement officers you must see them. You are their guardians. You are their protectors. And being able to talk to the invisible man means being able to communicate with every man.”

Lesson learned: Practice a little namaste. The spirit in me honors the spirit in you. That doesn’t mean you have to save everybody. That doesn’t mean you have to bandage the blood of all who hurt. But don’t pretend they’re not there. They know you see them. And you know that they know you see them. How many people did you go out of your way to ignore last week?

7. Instead of answering questions, answer unspoken needs. My mentor was great at this. Whenever you’d ask a question, he’d start his response by saying, “Scott, I think what you’re really asking about is (x) – is that fair?” Naturally, he was spot-on every time.

Because he could listen to what I was trying to communicate – but was unable or afraid to articulate. That’s the unspoken need. And as you listen to the people who are important to you, I challenge you to keep your third ear open for the message communicated – not just the words spoken.

The cool part is: When you practice noticing what people are afraid of revealing, you’ll quickly learn what it is they long for. But only if you penetrate the mask, get beneath the surface of people’s lives and take a swim in their sea of unspoken emotional needs. How can you give people permission to share what they’re afraid of revealing?

8. See people beyond their emotional baggage and into their hearts. I once wrote a love song to a girl with whom I was incurably smitten that said, “I want to learn what your flaws are just so I can tell you that I love you anyway … I want to learn what all your little quirks are just so I can say I don’t care.”

Lesson learned: Love is a package deal. Everybody’s got baggage. The question is whether or not you’re human enough to let the people you love carry their bags onto your plane and fly with you anyway. Do you love people along with all the baggage they check?

In conclusion, we turn to Alan Weber, cofounding editor of FastCompany and author of Rules of Thumb:

“We’re drawn to people who know who they are, who are comfortable in their own skins. Their sense of themselves makes it easier for us to know and trust them. It cuts down on the wasted energy and head games that too often accompany people in power who are at war with themselves – and take it out on us.”

REMEMBER: Your humanity isn’t a liability.

Just for today, trying being a human being.

You might like it.

If not, I’m sure the robots would love to have you.

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What makes you human?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

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