Let me be clear
for any literalists who may be reading this. It is not whether
you are wearing Ellen Tracy pumps or Air Jordan basketball
shoes. It’s got nothing to do with leather in-soles,
rhinestoned flip-flops, or cowboy boots. It actually has
nothing at all to do with what shoes you are
wearing on your feet.
communicators have the ability to step out of their own shoes
and into the ones of the person(s) they are talking to.
Understanding the people you are trying to reach – whether they
are clients, colleagues, business partners, tennis partners,
teenagers, spouses, vendors, et al – is one of the most critical
keys to effectively getting your message across.
audience and what’s most important to them takes work on your
part. There is the obvious knowing, the facts of the person.
And then there is the excavated, deep-dig info that is rarely
spoken and has much more to do with how an individual perceives
and feels. It is harder to attain and is usually the most
Meet Jack. He
was a partner in a large law firm for over a decade and recently
left to join a 2-lawyer firm. He is UCLA-schooled, very
competent, genial and well-liked by his clients. He meets
deadlines, listens well, and provides a heavy dose of client
hand-holding. Anyone who has spent an hour with Jack could
observe these facts.
Here’s what you
may not know about Jack. His behemoth law firm experience was
humbling. He had little authority to make decisions and when he
did make them, he was scrutinized, criticized and often
chastised publicly in firm meetings, and sometimes in front of
clients. As a result, he is very shaky about taking a stand.
He tends to agree with the crowd, to defer, and doubts his own
judgment - which, by the way, is usually outstanding. He has
become risk-averse, highly sensitive and more than a little
yourself the other lawyer in Jack’s new firm. The two of you
are meeting to talk about how you will approach a particular
client. Jack makes a suggestion and you say it doesn’t make
sense to you and ask him to explain his thinking. Jack takes
this as a challenge, as masked disagreement. He gets up and
walks out. What the heck?
Had you known
Jack’s unspoken baggage, would it have been useful to you? Had
you slipped quietly out of your Florescheim wingtips and into
his Rockports, might you have approached him differently? I
think so. You might have started by asking him to describe his
approach so you could support it rather than dismissing it as
not making sense. You might have opened the conversation with a
statement about how great it is to be able to kick ideas around
with someone whose judgment you respect.
Jack is not the
exception; he is the norm. We all come with baggage. And that
baggage comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. And hardest of
all, it doesn’t go on our resume or get discussed in casual
conversation. It reveals itself in behaviors that seem out of
whack. And that’s when it becomes about shoes.
Bob Dylan sang,
“I wish there was just one time you could stand inside my shoes,
and just for that one moment I could be you. I wish there was
just one time you could stand inside my shoes. You’d know what
a drag it is to see you.” Add that to soul singer Joe South’s
lyrics, “Walk a mile in my shoes, and before you abuse,
criticize and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes.” Makes sense,
And so, when
you slip off your shoes and wedge your feet into the shoes of
the other, and see from his or her perspective, you can begin to
anticipate how he or she might feel and react – what their hot
communication happens when you deliver your message so that it
is received as you intended.
Here are some
tips for how to fit your feet into someone else’s shoes and to
understand their perspective:
- Build a relationship. Be
curious about the people you work with. Ask them what they
liked about a previous job and what they didn’t like.
- Share your
own experiences. This is both an invitation to others to do
the same and it lets them see where you are coming from.
After all, you have baggage, too!
agreements about how you will work together. For instance,
“if you don’t agree with me on an issue, I’d appreciate it
if you’d suggest alternatives and we can kick them around
together. Sometimes I get locked in my own perspective. It's
important to me, though, that these discussions are done in
private so neither of us feels undermined.”
- Stop and
ask yourself, “How is my comment likely to be perceived by
this person? How else might I get my message across?”
- Check in
from time to time. When someone reacts in a way that
doesn’t make sense to you, that’s a clue that something else
might be going on.
that there is more than one perspective puts you giant steps
ahead of the average communicator.
We would love
to hear your insights on effective communication or any fabulous
tales of miscommunication that we might learn from.
If you have
questions or thoughts to share, please drop us a line at