Putting yourself in their shoes is a conversational skill you can practice

In the last newsletter, I introduced the concept of “conversation supplements.” These are specific ways of speaking and listening that put good leadership advice into action.

Now it’s time for an example!

The wise teacher I’m supplementing this week is Jennifer Garvey Berger, a frequent guest on my podcast. In a recent blog post, Jennifer describes why you get trapped in “simple stories” and how to get untrapped. She gives the example of a work colleague you think is undermining you. This thought is a simple story, one that likely limits you and the relationship. Jennifer suggests you put yourself in that person’s shoes by asking yourself, “How is this (annoying and frustrating) person a hero?” The idea isn’t to kill your simple story but acknowledge  that it’s simple and complement it with a different simple story. That way, you capture more complexity and expand your perspective-taking.

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It’s a brilliant approach, one used by thousands of leaders.

Think of it as the tastiest salmon in town.

Now let’s supplement that salmon with three side dishes.

  1. Make the advice even more actionable. Jennifer’s advice involves an interior reframe: thinking differently. Let’s carry this into your conversations. What different words would you use while speaking with your colleague—and about her? How might you shift your posture and tone? What new declarations (e.g. “I value our relationship” or “My success depends on yours”) would you make to her? Might you respond differently to past requests you declined? How about inviting her into a conversation practice I call “My Side of the Story, Your Side of the Story?”
  2. Customize it. The Enneagram teaches us that different folks need different strokes. Or, in this case, different interior reframes and conversational supplements. For example, an Eight Challenger could see that their simple story of “undermining” relates to their own unacknowledged vulnerability. In conversation, it would be useful to interrupt their colleague less, inquire more, and explicitly test assumptions. None of this would be useful for a Two Helper. That person would be better off connecting the story of “undermining” to their own resentment from unexpressed needs. They can practice making clear requests, stating explicitly what they need, and responding to requests by saying “no” or counteroffering.
  3. Do conversation drills. Make it more likely you’ll interact skillfully with your colleague through deliberate practice. Conversation skills don’t grow on trees. You build them by practicing repetitively with deep focus and an intention to improve. You can do this off to the side in a dedicated practice session with a friend or mentor. Or you can do this in the middle of a meeting—what I call on-the-job practice.

Here’s what’s so cool about this. You’re bringing it all together. Create a new simple story. Check. Make this actionable through conversation supplements. Check. Customize everything to your Enneagram type. Check. Practice these conversation skills multiple times every day, both on and off the job. Ditto.

When you build on Jennifer’s brilliant advice in these ways, guess what happens? You get to bring your full mojo to the table. You get to expand the capacity for perspective-taking within you. You get to build important skills outside of you.