It’s a multifaceted thing. One side of it, for example, is getting yourself to do more active listening. But I’ve also learned what I refer to as the “look back to look ahead” philosophy. This is the idea that, as you go through your day, you constantly look at what you are about to leave and ask yourself 1) if the space is in a condition for someone else to come in and start their own work right away (i.e., “Is everything in place and clean?”), and 2) what someone else might need in the future (i.e., “How can I help?”).
As an example, suppose you have a meeting in your conference room. You look back after the meeting and refuse to leave your mess of coffee cups, because otherwise the next person can’t start their own meeting without cleaning up after you. But you also notice that everybody used the last of the coffee cups, so you go and get some more from the supply closet yourself in anticipation that others will want a beverage after you.
There’s nothing particularly complex about this philosophy. But it’s surprisingly challenging to turn into an everyday habit. Why? Because it challenges our natural ego instincts. Most of the time, we are self-centered consumers. We do what we need, and when our own needs have been met, we move on. We see this perhaps most blatantly in kids who are still learning social responsibility–they think nothing of dropping toys all over the floor and creating landmines for their parents as they play, because they’re too busy thinking of fun, exploring and getting distracted by curiosity to look ahead to the cleanup.
But when you learn to look back to look ahead, you stop thinking just of yourself. You consider the others around you. You see opportunities to demonstrate small considerations and kindnesses, those precious commodities that communicate that the other person has value. And if you can communicate that, suddenly, there’s connection. The other person feels validated and subsequently learns to trust you. Without that trust, well, good luck leading.
And look back to look ahead is also a wonderful efficiency mindset. When everyone essentially acts as caretakers, it’s easier to stick to prescribed schedules and dive right in to the primary objectives. The petty squabbles and bad moods that can happen when toes get stepped on lessen or even disappear, and you can spend your time innovating instead of resolving unnecessary conflicts. Better efficiency also can yield more time to ask people deeper questions and get to know them on a much more intimate level. The more you know someone, the more synergistically you can work together and the more you ultimately can do as a team.
This isn’t something strictly for the workplace. I am constantly stressing it at home with my kids, not only because I want them to be able to take care of themselves and others, but because I want them to know me as a person and not just as a mom. I want the balance that comes from not having to pick up so much slack. And I know from experience that when they don’t look ahead for me, I feel hurt, like I’m not good or important enough. When they do look ahead for me, I don’t question whether I matter or what my place is in their life.
So observe. Turn back around and go one step further when you are finished so someone else can start and believe in you. You’ll foster personal pride, make friends and watch your company grow. I’d say that’s a pretty amazing return on an investment of just two little questions.