Ever been to a wedding, conference, or any special event where you found yourself sitting at a giant table with several people you didn’t know? I often will be “that guy” who plops down and immediately introduces himself to any strangers at the table. Today was no different. After shaking Mark’s hand and learning that he was a mechanical engineer working in the nuclear engineering department, I had a really strong, not-so-pretty reaction: mental yawn, smile and nod, then turn back to the people I knew at the table.
I could offer lots of rationalization for why I did this. Our interests were way too unrelated. He didn’t seem particularly engaging. A bunch of my friends were sitting to the other side of me. The list could go on, but I think there is really just one, core reason why I didn’t stay and engage. It feels icky to say, but I didn’t feel like I could gain anything from talking to him. In other words, I didn’t see Mark as having any worth to me. Eek, that’s pretty brutally honest. Our interaction didn’t stop there, though.
After feeling fairly guilty for leaving Mark out to dry sitting at our table in silence by himself, I decided to stretch myself a bit and really try to engage him as genuinely as possible. And I failed. Our conversation was ultra lame. Now, hindsight being 20-20, it’s easy to check my own reality and make the argument that Mark had tons of value to contribute. I could have made the choice to seek understanding about a topic area I knew nothing about and really leave the conversation a better person. But I didn’t.
This personal failure led me to ask “why?” We had just listened to a keynote on motivation by Dan Pink where he discussed the power of asking why people do what they do, not just what they do or how they do it. My answer traces back to the feeling I had just before turning to talk with Mark: guilt. I turned to Mark largely to quell my own guilt for excluding him from our conversation. Essentially, my motivation for talking with Mark was selfish.
My own selfish fail of an interaction reminded me to check my intentions. Our intentions point our conversations in the direction they are headed. If you are curious to know more, Chapter 1 of Ask Powerful Questions is all about Intention.