Monday, January 5, 2015

Walking in Someone Else's Shoes

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Am I the only person who finds it adorable when kids try to walk in the shoes of an adult? Often the shoes belong to Mom or Dad. What's their motivation? I've always assumed it to be either "I want to be a big kid NOW," or "I want to be just like you when I grow up." I probably read too much into it. Most likely the kids are just having a little fun!

Figuratively, walking in the shoes of someone else can be a learning experience. It's difficult to REALLY do it, of course. But if you're lucky you might have an opportunity to do it. An opportunity like I had during the Fall 2014 semester.

For about six weeks, I was asked to take on some of the responsibilities of the communications director in my school district. Our previous director resigned, and the process to hire a new person began. In the interim, communications processes needed to continue. I was happy to help.

During that relatively brief period of time, I learned a few things directly dealing with communications and public relations. But I learned a much larger life lesson. Something I sort of knew in theory, but which has been solidified in my mind through experience. And it's a lesson I hope to be always mindful of going forward.

The lesson?

No matter how much we think we know about what someone does, we really only know bits and pieces of what they do based on our points of interaction with them.

There's a corollary to the lesson, too.

When we judge a person's actions/performance, we base our conclusions on a relatively small amount of information.

These lessons probably don't sound very profound. I need to find ways to word them better. But perhaps some examples will help clarify what I learned, and give you some food for thought as well.

How often have you found yourself in the following situations, or similar ones?

  • A child is misbehaving in a public place, and the parent isn't dealing with it the way you think they should. You find yourself thinking, "What is wrong with them? If that were my kid, I'd ___________."
  • An issue comes up in your school, and an administrator addresses it in a way that makes no sense to you. You find yourself thinking, "That was crazy! That administrator should have _________."
  • You've had multiple conferences with a parent over concerns about their child, but no matter what you agree on, the parent doesn't follow through with what they said they'd do and the situation doesn't improve for the child. You find yourself thinking, "What a shame. That parent doesn't care about their child."

I could go on, but I think you get the gist by now. As I dealt with communications responsibilities and issues, things which I had wondered about as an observer of the public relations and communications in our district became more understandable. I also became aware of responsibilities that I didn't even know fell under the purview of the department.  

When we deal with students, parents, colleagues, administrators, or people in the checkout line at the store, we are getting a "tip-of-the-iceberg" glimpse at their lives. Even if we interact with people on a consistent basis over a long period of time, we never have a full picture of the journey they are making. What other concerns they are working on besides the ones we might bring to them. How something else in their sphere of life might take precedence over something we feel is of utmost importance.

And so, going forward, when I catch myself thinking, "If I were __________, I'd sure be doing _________ instead of ___________," or something similar, I'm going to try and follow it up with, "But I know I don't know all of the factors involved. And I also know they have different experience to bring to the situation. It will be interesting to see how this turns out."

I'm hoping an attitude like this will lead to less stress (i.e. less worry about things that are not under my influence or control) and more compassion for those around me.

    All original work in this post by Sandy Kendell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please see specifics on my re-use policy in the right-hand column of my blog before re-posting/re-using any of my blog content.