How do you determine who gets your time and attention? Who do you read? Who do you listen to? Who listens to you?
There are three distinct groups who occupy your life – in terms of people who you’re willing to pay attention to – with one major caveat, these are people who know who you are. Of course, we all tend to listen to far more people who have no clue who we are. We read books, listen to speakers, watch videos, read blogs and listen to podcasts by people who don’t us. Sometimes we even put more weight on what they tell us than on what those who love us most may tell us. It’s the maze we all have to travel as we figure out who deserves our attention based on who can really help us.
1. The core group – the people you know and who know you. These are people who have a personal connection with you. They understand your life, and they care about it. They have a more vested interest in your life. Hopefully, you also care about them.
2. The special interest group – the people you know and who know you, but they leap to your mind because of some present need or interest. For example, you may have some specialized skill. Let’s say you’re a WordPress website designer. People know that about you. When somebody has a question or need about a WordPress website, your phone rings – or you email inbox gets a new message. You occupy a “top-of-mind” presence for the people who know you. You have people like that in your life, too.
Then, there are all those people we know of, but who don’t know us. Connections are made that have value, but aren’t very intimate. We really don’t know them, but based on their public persona we think we do. Again, some of these people may be core people we listen to. We may listen to them all the time. We may hang on their every word because we’ve decided they’ll be in our inner circle of influence even though they don’t know us.
Another group may be more specialized. I’m a member of Don McAllister’s Screen Casts Online. Don teaches about all things Apple Mac. He produces killer video tutorials at his membership site. I learn from Don’s work. He doesn’t have a clue who I am, but based on my special interest in what he teaches, I listen to Don. We’ve all got people like that in our life. They provide value for us. Sometimes we pay for the value. Sometimes it’s completely free.
With Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Pinterest, Google + and the host of other places where we interact with people – it’s entirely probable that most of the people you interact with each day are people who haven’t a real clue who you are. Why do you listen to them? Is it popularity? What is it that draws you to them? What value do they provide in your life?
Quite often I find myself not asking these important questions – and every time I drift away from asking these great questions I find my life grows noisier. That’s not good for me. It’s distracting.
Some years ago I devised a plan to further restrict the voices in my head – and my life. It’s hard. I’d love to tell you how I don’t plan to allow the cool kids to dictate the voices I value most, but sometimes they do. Sometimes it’s like reading a book only because it’s popular and top-of-the-chart only to find that I’ve wasted hours reading a book that was an utter waste of time! The herd isn’t always right. Popular people aren’t always the most reliable people to listen to.
Besides, I find the most value in listening to people who care about my life – and those willing to let me care about theirs.
3. The special confidant – the person, or maybe persons, who you completely trust. This group is really a subset of the first group, the core group. And it can consist of at least 2 sub-groups:
a) people who have skills/experience to help or
b) people who are special friends willing to help (but may not know how)
Maybe your mom loves you and is willing to listen to all your problems, but that doesn’t make her qualified to offer you sound advice. A husband or wife may have little insight about a professional challenge. Or you may just want or need a person with some distance to provide you with a fresh perspective.
This last group can be the most challenging group. For good reason.
The first group naturally happens. Our family, church friends, friends who share our hobbies and people who share other social interactions with us — they know us. We know them. Each group has some context. That is, church friends see us in one context. Friends we tailgate with at the weekend football game know us in a different context. Parents of our kids’ friends know us in that context.
Additionally, these groups happen around some central focus. Family happens because we’re born into or adopted into a specific group. We didn’t choose it. It just happened. Funny how our closest core group is so random, huh? But other groups – like our tailgate buddies – happens because we share our love for a team. Or because we have season seats near each other. Or because we’re next door neighbors who happen to love the same team. There are some shared reasons that bring us together. Some of these relationships may be shallow while others run deep. Our core group of people tend to run the range between very casual to very trusted. Still, these people are in our lives because of a common, shared interest. Or because we’re family.
The second group – the special interest group – can overlap with the core group. Those tailgate buddies might be close friends, but the foundation of the friendship was forged because we both loved a specific team. It may have transcended the weekend fall game, but we still view these friends as people we can talk with about next season’s chances to go to a major bowl game.
I’m mostly using this second group for the purposes of helping us though. These are people who have a specialized skill, talent or experience. It’s less important that they know us because the relationship – our willingness to listen to them – is based mostly on how much trust we have in their ability to help us. Can they help us solve this problem?
As summer is approaching my son and I were talking last month about having our AC units checked out. He knows a guy. Well, I know a guy, too. But he knows his guy better than I know my guy. And his interaction with his guy was just last year. I haven’t interacted with my guy in a few years. Based on his past experience, his trust and confidence in his AC guy — we both lined him up to do a seasonal tune-up on our units. My son knows him. He knows my son. I had never met him, but because of my son we had a connection.
He came over, spent a few hours doing what he does, charged us a reasonable amount and I even posted on Facebook telling anybody who might need AC work to call him. I strongly recommended him based on how he served me. He was in my second group, but now he’s in my third group. And there’s a point to that migration from group 2 to group 3.
That third group is even more special, or narrow. The AC man was in group 2 for me because I was going on a recommendation of my son. The guy didn’t know me. We had never met. He had never done any work for me. But once he had done work for me – and once we met – I was fully prepared to move him to the 3rd group based on his work and my experience with him. He could have come to my house, done crappy work and fallen off of any list…except the one where I keep people who I never want to call again. But he did a good job so I elevated him among the people I’m willing to listen to.
I’m not going to call him when I have a business problem. He’s not going to be somebody I call if I want to talk Bible. I won’t be calling him up for relationship advice. But if I need heating and air conditioning advice, he’s my guy.
That’s how it is with specialized interest. But it can also be how it is with a special confidant. Sounds odd to have a special HVAC confidant, but we all have people like that. Maybe you have a yard guy or a tree guy. Any time you have a problem in those areas, you call a special somebody who knows how to solve those problems. You trust that person completely when it comes to yard or tree issues. They’re a confidant, even if the subject isn’t terribly sensitive. Like my HVAC units.
We don’t think twice about having such people in our lives. But we either fail to think – or we avoid thinking – about some other people who may serve us in very important matters (not that our yard, trees and HVAC aren’t important). Married couples can struggle and one or both can avoid seeking help because of pride, embarrassment or a host of other moronic reasons. A marriage isn’t more valuable than air conditioning? Sadly for some, maybe not. But it should be.
I think there may be an even bigger reason why people don’t find or include a special confidant in some areas of their life. They don’t know anybody. And they don’t know who to ask, or they’re too afraid to ask.
The bravest ask, or quietly cold call somebody seeking out Google and other search devices to find somebody. But many don’t. They just quietly go about their business struggling alone, or leaning on people unequipped to help them. They hope to find some solace in a listening ear, but often find themselves more frustrated by a caring friend or family member who doesn’t know what to say or how to react.
And there’s the whole stigma of seeking out a professional. “We don’t need to see a marriage counselor,” says the husband to his wife of 10 years. Communication between he and his wife are non-existent. They both know they’re in trouble. They love each other, but the last few years have wrecked what they once had. Pride. Shame. Embarrassment. Coupled with not knowing a good marriage counselor…are creating the perfect storm for their marriage to fatally hit the rocks. “Besides, how much does something like that cost?” asks the wife. Again, it’s so far outside the realm of what most of us know about…our cluelessness hinders our ability to craft an ideal circle of trusted confidants to who can serve us.
Executive coaching suffers the same problems. Whether you prefer to call it business coaching, leadership coaching or career coaching – it’s all very much the same. It’s serving the specific needs of somebody who needs a person with whom they can be completely transparent and vulnerable. It’s serving the person who may need short-term help through some specific challenge. It’s serving the person who may want longer term help through a transition. It’s anything, but one-size-fits-all. It’s specific, personal and targeted.
Those brave enough – wise enough – to seek it out will attest to the value of it. For many, it’s priceless. For most, it’s invaluable. When it’s done well, it’s a partnership. It’s focus is YOU. That’s a rare feeling for most. A good feeling, but rare. To know that another person is so vested in your outcome that they’ll do whatever they can to help you — it’s a terrific feeling. One that too few ever experience.
It’s not about fixing things necessarily. It’s about exploring possibilities. It’s about improvement and growth. It’s about vital friendships that can help us achieve higher levels of success faster.
Who do you listen to – and how do you decide?