The single choice with the power to open the door to a world of possibilities.
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He assumed I lied.
There was no hesitation—the assumption of negative intent was as instinctual as breathing.
But if he even took just a cursory moment to reflect, he would have recognized that for the average person to lie in this situation would go against the very basis of why people lie: We lie when we fear the consequences of the truth (and even then, we will only lie when we think we can actually get away with it).
And there was no way I’d be able to get away with this one.
It all happened yesterday as I lined up for the Holyoke 10k race. Though I’d never run in this event before, I have participated in a number of similar races in the past, so I really didn’t give it much thought.
For me, running a race isn’t about running faster than others. Rather, it’s just a fun way to stay fit while spending time in the community. I have no aspirations other than starting, finishing, and having fun along the way.
But this was not the case for the people I was lined up with at the starting line.
We were grouped by the colors of our assigned numbers: Orange numbers, green numbers, blue numbers, and so forth. I had an orange number, which meant I had to line up at the front of the starting line—which made sense, because I had registered for the race months ago. Register early and you get to the front of the line, right?
Waiting for the race to begin, the other runners gave me strange looks. Eventually one of them asked the pivotal question: “What time are you hoping to get?”
“I’m not hoping for any particular time,” I replied. “I’m just here to have fun.”
He looked annoyed. “You’re going to get trampled. The orange corral is for elite runners, those with sub-40 finish times. Why did you lie about your time when you registered?”
And there it was. No hesitation.
I was immediately reminded of what a client recently said during a group workshop with their team, about the value of assuming positive intent. Just because people may do things that go against our expectations, that does not mean they are being malicious. More than likely, it’s merely a miscommunication, or perhaps they are coming from a different perspective and with different information. If approached with the assumption of positive intent and with curiosity to understand, we can effectively break down the barriers to connection and create the foundation for meaningful relationships to flourish.
The interaction with this runner made me regret signing up for the race, a sure way to lose the race before you even get started. I signed up to run, not to have my integrity publicly questioned. But the person with the greatest amount of responsibility is the one with the highest level of awareness, so though I was inwardly disappointed by the experience, outwardly I shrugged off the rebuff with a smile: “I don’t know why they assigned me here—I’m just lined up where I was told to be. Let’s have fun today.”
And fun it was! Over the course of the next hour and 15 minutes and 53 seconds, I was treated to a 6.2-mile line of community members cheering us all on. My legs may have been tired, but my heart was full.
As for how I ended up being grouped with elite runners, I’m still not sure. If it wasn’t a clerical error, then perhaps it was due to ambiguous wording on the registration page. Is the “Under 40 Division” for people who are under 40 years old? Or for people who can run a 10k in under 40 minutes?
The High Cost of Unskilled Teams
This experience reminded me of obstacles I often hear clients discuss during our group workshops. When faced with conflict, team members without effective connecting and communication strategies are often prone to carelessly push others away.
At best, these unskilled employees discourage their peers from being open—leading to disengagement, lack of productivity, and poor quality of work. That’s the best-case scenario with an unskilled team. At worst, these careless behaviors can push people to leave the team entirely to seek a more conducive environment—costing major financial setbacks in turnover costs.
By not providing your team with opportunities to understand, connect, and positively influence one another, they become destined to lose the race before they even get started.
How teams choose to treat each other through their verbal and nonverbal communication is just as important as how they choose to respond to each other. There are eight connecting choices I share with my clients to help them overcome barriers to effective engagement. These choices are important, because regardless of the opportunities for connecting with others, they are inaccessible without making the right choices to remove any real or perceived barriers.
There is one connecting choice that is my favorite of them all, because it has power to open the door to a world of possibilities:
Choose to be curious.
Curiosity comes with the inherent quality of fasciation that inspires wonder and empowers sincere interest.
When you are curious, there are no assumptions. Instead, you remain open. You ask questions. You listen. You learn. You gain perspective by seeking to understand what others see, hear, feel, know, and want.
As a bonus, curiosity also sends a signal to others that you care enough about them and the situation to ask questions—opening the door for the possibility of a whole new world of connection.
Whether you are on the sending or receiving end of communication, choosing to be curious can empower you, your team, and the community you serve with a sure foundation from which to grow on, because that’s how teams win.
How might you approach your interactions with others with greater curiosity, fascination, and wonder?
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach for Hashtag Positivity, helping leaders and their influencers experience joy in their life, work, and relationships. Schedule a strategy session with him today to discuss your challenges, goals, and obstacles.
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.