I’ve written a lot on this blog about being others-focused instead of being self-focused. If I asked, I’m sure you could come up with a list of outward behaviors for each of the two categories. On the self-focused list would probably be words like tardiness, frowning, complaining, ignoring others’ needs, and declining to help. Words on the others-focused list might include a positive outlook, pleasantries when speaking, smiling and nodding, offering to share the work load.
Oftentimes, being others-focused just feels like niceness or kindness.
(They’re different—see previous blog post “Leaders Know that True Kindness Beats Niceness.”)
But what does it really mean to be others-focused?
Being others-focused isn’t only about being nice or kind or what outward behaviors others see.
It’s about curiosity, learning, and seeking to know.
See, it’s not just about outward appearances. It’s possible to be well-meaning and seem nice, yet still see others as objects rather than people. We’re putting on a performance in order to mask our true intentions, not because we’re curious, want to learn, or genuinely want to know.
When we act nice rather than seeking to know, we deceive ourselves into thinking we’re being others-focused.
It’s true that we need people. But when we need them for a particular reason, we might see them as vehicles—a means to an end. If we’re unkind to meet this end, we may manipulate, threaten, or seek to control.
However, it’s just as bad to indulge and pander them, or only work to be liked by them so they’ll give us what we need. Those things only feel nicer.
In reality, though, they’re just nice ways of being manipulative and controlling.
That knowledge is uncomfortable for me; I know I’ve done that. I had a teacher once who described me this way: “Alan has a very nice way of being a very big jerk.”
We know we’re being mean to people who stand in our way when we criticize, blame, and find ways to punish them. But when we’re using a “very nice way of being a very big jerk,” we simply tolerate those people, or avoid them altogether.
What if we stopped to listen and learn from them?
What if we really were curious about what they had to say? What if we viewed them as people we could learn something from? What if we sought to really know who they are and where they’re coming from?
Everyone has value and is valuable. So avoid being a nice jerk and, instead, speak to connect and seek to know.