The Leading Edge: Connection: It’s Not About You
Recently, I attended a meeting with representatives of our City Planning Department. There were plans to redirect a road that would affect an apartment community we manage, and I needed to understand the implications it might have on our business.
Many city governments are notoriously difficult to work with. No one likes the red tape and bureaucracy. I’m also guessing from the standpoint of the government worker, many meetings with local citizens are contentious and defensive. Our human nature often causes us to challenge the “rules” and cause us to forget we are working with generally good-hearted people who volunteered to serve our communities.
In this particular meeting, three of my team members and I were meeting with five city employees about a construction project on which the City had already received quite a bit of backlash from the community. We had the opportunity to ask our questions, and the City’s team respectfully and thoroughly answered all of them. Each side had communicated their concerns. But had we really connected?
Wrapping up the meeting, I asked a question I often ask. . .
“What can my team do to make this process easier for you?”
Looking back on the situation now, I see how humorous it was. My question was met by an awkward silence followed by the skeptical question from one of the City representatives, “Where exactly are you headed with that question?”
I could hear what he really meant. . . ”What’s your end game, lady?!”
Up until that point, the City’s team may have been hoping we were not just another group of citizens here to complain about the City’s progress or lack thereof. They had cautiously listened to each of our inquiries and responded with prepared, intentional answers, never really giving us longer answers than needed and definitely not offering anything we had not directly asked.
John C. Maxwell, in Everyone Communicates Few Connect, teaches us that effective communication requires real connection. Further, connection is all about OTHERS. While there are many reasons that people fail to connect, including immaturity, ego, and insecurity, we are reminded that coming from a place of service in communicating with others can ensure purposeful, others-focused connection.
John reminds us that there are three questions people are asking about us when we are communicating with them:
- Do you care about me?
- Can you help me?
- Can I trust you?
“You can connect with others if you are willing to get off your own agenda, to think about others, and to try to understand who they are and what they want,” Maxwell says.
In that moment with the City team, in a context perhaps typically devoid of valuing the person, I had offered up that I cared and had received back a justifiably skeptical response. With my team present, I was able to model an empathetic understanding of the challenges city government employees face, ensure them we were in support of the development project, and simply come from a place of advocacy on the City’s behalf if needed.
The obvious result of this interaction was a release of tension in the room. So much so, that conversation moved into brainstorming potential future projects that would benefit both the City and our apartment communities in the vicinity.
And as John says, as you focus on helping others, making connections “goes from being something you merely do to becoming part of who you really are.” The world could use a few more others-focused leaders.
Amy Smith Montoya is a John Maxwell Team certified coach and trainer helping teams and individuals identify leadership gaps and implement plans of growth.
As an entrepreneur in the multifamily real estate management industry, Amy works with many cross-departmental teams. She has held leadership positions in both state and national industry associations, as well as consulted internationally in board and organizational development.
Amy resides in both Arizona and California. For more information visit AmySmithMontoya.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.