Exactly Who is the Idiot Here?

Hint…there are no idiots! 

I received a call from someone the other day asking for ideas on how they could build better relationships with their work colleagues. They were really struggling in this area because they don’t like working with people who are idiots. Idiot was their choice of words, not mine. 

I knew this was going to be an interesting conversation because I almost instantly believed I had figured out why this person might be “relationship challenged.” 

I began by asking how committed they were to improving their relationship with co-workers. They said they were very committed. I asked how they came to be “very” committed. They didn’t understand my question so I asked what caused them to become committed enough today to ask for help.  I pointed out that they could have asked yesterday or last week or last month.  

They replied that it had been recommended by their supervisor that they figure out a way to have these “better relationships.” That would be important if they hoped to advance within the company. 

Now that I understood the “motivation” for developing better relationships I asked them to quantify their level of commitment on a scale of one to ten. They immediately said a ten! Then I asked them to quantify their commitment level absent the “recommendation” from their boss. They had to think about that for a bit and eventually settled on a 3. 

When I asked why such a low commitment level they answered that they didn’t believe it was their responsibility to work well with idiots…there’s that word again. 

So then I asked if they could tell when talking with others if the person they were talking with thought they were an idiot. They answered yes. I asked how they could tell and they answered, “you just can.” Then I asked if that was some special gift of insight they possessed or if they thought other people could sense that as well. 

There was a rather lengthy silence on the phone at this point. 

I tried to lighten up the conversation a little bit by saying with a chuckle, “I think we may have discovered the way to better working relationships with your colleagues.”

They said they would stop thinking of others as idiots when they stopped being idiots. So I went back to my questioning. I asked how they interacted with people who treated them with disrespect, almost as if they were say… an idiot.

A bit more silence before I heard “I’ll treat “them” better when they treat me better.” 

I asked again about that commitment level of ten and why it was so high. They said they wanted a leadership position in their company and they knew they needed better relationships to get it. 

I told them that they already have a leadership position they just have to use it. Step one would be treating people, ALL PEOPLE, with respect. I said that would be easier to do if we realize that everyone knows something we don’t and we can learn from anyone. It’s unlikely we’re actually working with idiots. We are working with people who think differently than we do because their life experiences are different. 

They don’t know less than we do, they know different than we do. That means we can learn from them. It means we can learn from anyone. 

When we change our mindset from one of “people are idiots” to one of “I can learn from anyone” our relationships improve dramatically overnight. If you want better relationships with other people then don’t try to change them. Change your thinking about them.

That is what an Authentic Leader would do. If you want a higher position of leadership you should understand that you must lead from where you are before you can lead from somewhere else.