I got 20 minutes with a group of bright, talented new hires last week in a new company I’m working with. It was a spontaneous decision to have them spend a few minutes with me as the expert coach since I happened to be in the building during their onboarding. I knew that this might be my only window to make impact with them (never met them before, might never see them again), so I went for it. I dove in, assessed where I could focus for the most impact, coached them individually and as a group pretty intensely, watched their thinking shift, then I was out. I intentionally made positive impact that would change some things about how they see themselves going forward.
That’s a really good twenty minutes to me. I measure my work’s accomplishment in level of impact I have on people. In this case, I actually heard feedback today from that group last week who reported my twenty minutes with them as the most powerful in their ten day onboarding process. “She pushed hard, but not in a confrontational way, and pulled stuff out of me I didn’t know I had.” Awesome.
Overt acknowledgments are pretty nice. Yet most of the time I have to go on the cues I get in the moment (you, too, can develop the sensitivity to see the moment of shift for another person if you’re looking for it). I maximize the moment to create a shift and then trust that it’s going to have marinating, multiplying impact as that shift takes root in their thinking after I’ve gone.
A crew of city engineers were doing the final reseeding and strawing next to the street they’d been working on yesterday, as I jogged through them on my regular path .
“Thanks for doing this- it makes a big difference, and it’s going to look really good when you’re done!”
That shoutout takes 5 seconds to say, doesn’t slow down my run at all, and can actually be the one nice acknowledgment those guys get that day for their work making a positive difference in other people’s lives.
...Which brings more meaning and satisfaction to what they do. And maybe causes them to feel more pride in their work and the positive effect it has in the world. Which makes them happy. And maybe sparks them to think about and acknowledge other people in the same way. Which carries it on…
Except I didn’t say it.
Instead I just smiled and said “Hi,” as I continued to run past. I thought it, but it didn’t fully occur to me to verbally acknowledge them and my appreciation of their work until I was already too far down the road, out of earshot.
As soon as I ran past, I knew I’d missed it. I could’ve said something right there and made positive impact for that whole crew. I actually spent several of the next minutes of my run regretting that moment and thinking about this very idea of how easy it actually is to make more positive impact by just becoming more aware in those moments of opportunity.
So, I ran a little harder and faster, hoping I’d get back to those guys while they were still there, and make it right. When I did, many of them had gone, but a few remained. I ran up to them and delivered that simple little acknowledgment. A ten second exchange, I watched their thinking shift, then I was out. In that quick ten seconds, a little caught off guard, they went from surprise, to really getting what I said, to big-grin, standing up-a-little-straighter satisfaction of being newly proud of their work and acknowledged for it by someone in the world. They played it off casually, but I knew I’d struck a chord. I intentionally made a positive impact that would change some things a little about how they see themselves going forward that day. And I didn’t even lose time off my run.
That’s a really good ten seconds to me. Not as good as if the whole crew had been there to feel it, but a difference made for those few guys. Think starfish story,“I made a difference for that one.” Not as big and dramatic as Scenario #1, but who’s to say?
It’s right there....
Okay… so maybe this idea of making impact is one that I think about more than other people, yet I’m clear that this is way bigger than what I do for a living. We could consciously be making positive impact 100 times a day if we actually paid attention to the moments of opportunity we’re passing by all the time.
I can drop a pebble in a pond, and watch it as it disappears to the bottom of the pond. I may notice the ripples my pebble causes, but how often do I follow them, making impact somewhere else, 90 degrees and a good distance away from where I focused my pebble in the water? Bucky Fuller coined the term Precession, the idea that there’s impact happening at 90 degree angles from our focus all the time, like those ripples reaching out to the edges you can’t even see in a pond. I choose to turn an otherwise disconnected moment near someone else (think standing in line at the grocery store) into one of connection and positive impact, and who knows what that might ripple into for that person?
I’m convinced of the truth that every single interaction we have in the civilized world has an impact on someone else.
If you can think of an exception, please let me know, as I haven’t found one yet.
Sometimes it’s direct, sometimes it’s delayed, and sometimes it’s in that ripple effect that happens in the pebble-tossing of our actions/words into the shared pond of our collective awareness. Just in the range of what we intentionally do and say to make impact and the ripples that causes without our even noticing... it’s staggering, and everywhere.
Kaizen is a Japanese concept referring to small, seemingly imperceptible changes over time which yield a big difference in the end. The impact we have in the course of an hour, day and so on can be much like this. Lots of little choices and interactions, over time...
Let’s first establish that a moment of interaction can fall within a huge range from me jogging past you and just making eye contact briefly, to stopping to say something that really touches you, makes a positive difference and sticks with you. There’s a pretty big range in-between. And- there’s the negative version of this range… I could jog right by, not noticing you, or stop to say something that really offends or hurts you, which then makes a negative impact, and sticks with you.
We have so many kinds of interactions in just the course of one day. See if you can count the number of possible moments of interaction you’ve had in the last few hours. Not just the moments you interacted with someone, but all the openings when you could’ve. Just this morning in the hour before my three kids left for school, I lost count of the moments with them where I actually was or could be making impact on their state, thinking, beliefs or course of their day. Every look exchanged (smile or scowl?), every word choice, every topic chosen influences. Just in the course of writing these few paragraphs, I’ve had eight emails, two calls and one live conversation come in (I let them all go until later), all representing potential moments of impact (on me as I read them, on another, as I reply). I also posted a few times on Facebook and Twitter today, each post an opportunity to impact lots of people with a few simple keystrokes.
This is one of those concepts that worms its way into your thinking, and then you start noticing it everywhere. So- we’ve got an opening here to gain new awareness going forward. What if we started considering our impact everywhere in all of those moments, and consciously chose to make them count meaningfully with positive impact?
Here’s a start:
- Reflect on the last few interactions or opportunities for interaction you’ve had (even with strangers). What impact did you have? Even if you ignored them, you had impact of some kind, so own it.
- Think about how you could’ve used those moments to make positive impact somehow.
- Going into your next interactions, consciously choose to connect with or contribute to someone. Notice something positive (even the most cynical can see it), then actually acknowledge it out loud to that person.
- Notice the moments you encounter everywhere, where you actually have a choice, but never even considered.
- Notice the moments you make negative impact. Maybe intentionally, maybe not, pay attention to how your inattention or sour state get on other people. (We’ve all been there)
- Be willing to give with impact in the 5-minute Favor, as Adam Grant shows us. You can create big movement for someone in very little effort.
It all counts. I assess the maximum impact for the moment, and dive in as the work I do every day. You could too. Yet the small, little moments not only make impact, but ripple and multiply into impact we can’t even measure.