Over the next week, when you interact with people outside of your normal realm,
practice really seeing them:
The grocery store clerk.
As they scan and/or bag your groceries, look them in the eye, comment on the weather, compliment them if you like their shirt or the earrings they happen to be wearing. Let them know you have seen them as more than someone performing a service.
A driver stuck in traffic beside you.
Near our home, there is one particular street where the lanes are so close going opposite directions that sometimes you wind up sitting side by side with another driver. It’s awkward, like being the only two people in an elevator as you rise from the ground floor to the 42nd. I smile and often get a smile in return. In a brief moment, you have been two connected humans, not two disembodied people separated by the stress of driving in thick traffic.
The coffee barista—
Another patron in any check-out line—
Your wait person—
A passer-by on the sidewalk.
At La Cave au Cassoulet in Toulouse, France, we had what some might have thought an undesirable table near the kitchen in this below-ground-level restaurant. I was delighted. I could look one direction and see other patrons, hear the French being spoken, not understanding the words and delight in the friends laughing together. Glancing the other direction, I observed the chefs and assistants creating these new-to-me meals. One caught my eye, smiled and waved. I smiled back. People sometimes forget that this isn’t the Jetson’s, food isn’t coming from a machine—a person or persons are preparing it.
Who haven’t you seen in the last week?
Quick—think of a person you interacted with.
Did you look them in the eye?
Did you really acknowledge that they existed?
Too often we miss opportunities to connect with one another, causing separateness when we innately crave togetherness.
My office is currently setup with a view of the neighbor’s house across our street. They have a roomy backyard, but sometimes the kids—nine and seven (-ish—I always forget ages) attack the front yard or the driveway. Now that Hudson, the enthusiastic Poodle, is a part of the household I see him bounding around in snow or sun. While I don’t want my neighbor to think I’m spying, occasionally I send her a text: Your kids are cracking me up.
Making those connections
It’s a connection to another person, so important when you work from home. So important no matter where you work. When I was an HR Director, I had incredibly frustrating days (HR = masochist) when I would finally put up a sign: Revolving Door Day. The employees came in and out with a visit a complaint a situation a report a rare thank you a request to applaud another employee. My work load stayed piled high while they got to say whatever was weighing on them. Yet, without those visits, what would be the point of being in human resources? Companies make products or create services, but without people to design, produce, sell, support, what is the use of a company?
If someone is in a service role toward us (a clerk, a wait person), do we always take the time to treat them like a person and not the role that they’re in at that moment in time?
It’s important to see one another when we’re looking at each other. In this world where again and again on my travels, I see companions sitting at a table with their faces bent over smartphone reading something so much more important than the human being beside them, I agonize over missed moments to connect.
We have to teach our children to see.
I still feel a hint of sadness at the little boy in a stroller in beautiful Rapallo, Italy last spring. His parents or grandparents had him out and about in the evening, stopping at our restaurant of choice to visit with friends. The entire time, the child was engrossed in a tablet. For ten or fifteen minutes, he never looked up, never noticed or was made aware of anything around him. This obliviousness was shocking in Italy, where the sea light does magical things and makes everyone look lovely—where people are connected and live so brilliantly in the moment.
What, I always wonder, is so captivating on that device that it supersedes the person we walked out with? I may, for a moment, use the phone to take a picture, to look something up that pertains to our conversation, but I guarantee you that I’m not going to pop onto Facebook or LinkedIn and check my email while we’re together. I want very much to be with you or I would have stayed at home.
I was traveling in Germany once and dining in a rooftop restaurant on the Rhein River. An elderly gentleman walked by with a tweed coat elegantly draped across his shoulders. It wasn’t an effort or affect to look dashing, the coat was comfortably placed there as if he’d been wearing it that way for decades. He had no particular reason to glance my direction as he walked by. But when he sat at his table, relaxed with a glass of white wine, he looked around, from the river to other patrons, to the setting sun. I was doing the same thing. For one brief moment, our eyes met. We really saw each other. He gave a tilt of his head, I smiled, and there was that acknowledgement of: I see you.
Who will you see this week?
Read: Learning to converse