The sages say that life is created in each moment. Every moment we spend interacting with colleagues and stakeholders at work is an opportunity to build positive perceptions of our personal brand and the team or organisation we represent.

Whether these interactions occur in formal meetings or informal ‘corridor conversations’ is less important than the realisation that such moments pass quickly. And before we know it we’re saying goodbye. 

Do we ever stop to consider what we leave behind every time we say goodbye?

The moments we spend with our colleagues and stakeholders give us the prospect of cultivation. These moments are fertile grounds upon which we can sow seeds of misunderstanding, confrontation, and all sorts of negative sentiments. Or we can choose to use those moments to sprinkle gold dust, and cultivate a different set of emotions and perceptions more conducive to our organisational wellbeing and work success.

People who are highly effective operators are very aware of what they’re cultivating from moment to moment. But for many us, unschooled in such matters though highly proficient in the technical aspects of our jobs, we often only realise what we’ve sown when we come to say goodbye – the responses and body language of the person(s) we’ve been interacting with are typical telltale signs.

Quite often, we sow the wrong seeds or read the signs wrongly simply because we may be handicapped by our own personal bias; because our perspectives on all aspects of life are shaped by the environments we’ve grown up in (biologically and professionally) and the ‘scripts’ we’ve picked up from others in those environments. 

The scripts are the subliminal programming of our worldviews – our beliefs, values and how we perceive and interpret life, including our work life. And most of us are not even aware of this.

For instance, many managers who spend their formative professional years in organisations where authoritarian or Tayloristic leadership prevails end up embodying similar regressive, bully-boy leadership styles when they themselves become senior leaders. It’s the old “monkey see, monkey do” syndrome. 

These professionals unknowingly develop a flawed script of what effective leadership means, and end up carrying this imprint throughout their careers; unless they are subsequently exposed to other, more progressive environmental influences and make concerted efforts to rewrite their scripts.

Becoming aware of how our environments and related scripts influence our thinking, perspectives and actions is one of the most powerful learning experiences for anyone. It’s a key aid to expanding our personal effectiveness, and has an indelible impact on our work success. 

It’s particularly relevant to our interactions with stakeholders, who may be just as challenged or stressed out by the incessant hustle and bustle of the modern-day workplace as we are. The more self-aware we become, the better we’re able to recognise why individual stakeholders may not see things as we do.

This divergence of views can easily become a stumbling block that prevents us from selling our work agenda successfully and winning people over. 

I’ve learnt from experience (sometimes painful!) that winning people over demands that I take the trouble to understand individuals better. Gaining that deeper understanding requires a paradigm shift, moving from my own script and predispositions to seeing and thinking differently.

By creating different mental models and, thus, shifting our perspectives we enable and empower ourselves to perceive and behave in more productive ways which we may have been blinded to by our scripts.

I often use a simple card exercise with coaching and mentoring clients to illustrate the concept of shifting perspectives. If I hold a normal business card up to you and ask you what you see, you will probably describe it as “a business card”, and, perhaps, read out what the card says – the name, job title, company and so on. But I, on the other side of the card, will see something different: a blank card on the reverse side. Yet we’d both be looking at the same card. Of course, if we swap positions each of us will be able to see what the other had seen. So it is with shifting perspectives – it’s really about seeing things from different viewpoints; and recognising that our scripts, often deep-seated, are always at play influencing our predispositions to particular perspectives.

The business card exercise is a simple illustration of the interplay of scripting, perspective and self-awareness, and how those dynamics impact our ability to understand others and nurture productive work relationships.

We can be more effective at work if we seek to understand colleagues and stakeholders first before pushing our own agenda. Adopting this approach helps us recognise that we may only ever be perceiving or considering ‘one side of the business card’, or one or two aspects of what is often a multifaceted work issue, task or project. 

This insight is tightly linked to our personal intelligence as individuals; not least, our ability to comprehend our own scripts, which are always playing out at a subconscious level and influencing our actions and perspectives.

The more we enhance this self-awareness, the better we become at self-leadership, a foundational prerequisite for work and career success. 

The many moments we spend with colleagues and stakeholders provide ample opportunities to grow our self-awareness and up our game. So every time you end an interaction and say goodbye, ask yourself what you left behind: did you sow seeds of negative sentiment or did you sprinkle gold dust?

© Sigi Osagie 2016. Advance excerpt from Career Dreams to Career Success by Sigi Osagie © 2018