What I Learned at my 30-Year High School Reunion

October 11th, 2018 by Kelly Kienzle

As my faithful readers know, I usually write about a topic on leadership growth and transformation. But last week I went to my 30-year high school reunion and unexpectedly learned something I want to share here.

What I learned was this: Our strongest and longest-lasting relationships are born out of conversation.

Like many teenagers, I suffered from the classic myopia of believing I understood people, even when I didn’t really know them and had barely talked to them. I recklessly assigned labels, social groups and categories to people who I thought I could or should interact with.

I realized this past weekend, as I talked to people I did not talk to in high school, that I had missed many opportunities to know some wonderfully interesting and deeply kind people.  Yet I had also grown some great relationships through conversation.

Kelly’s Home Town

I grew up in what used to be a small town. We had no mall, no coffee shops (truly!) and exactly two movie screens to entertain us. (OK, it was actually just one movie screen with a curtain dividing it to make two tiny cracker box theaters.)

So with little else to occupy ourselves, we talked.  A lot.  We talked at school, during lunch, after school, after dinner and late into the night. I had friends with whom I would go driving simply so we could have a place to talk.  And by talking we grew to understand each other and ourselves on a deeper level than we might have if a mall had existed in our town.  I wish I had gone driving with more people.

Going back to that town and seeing my high school friends made me realize how important those conversations had been. Those conversations made friendships that, though we rarely see each other now, make it incredibly simple to just sit down (or stand up) and start talking again. I feel an innate, deeply-embedded trust with each of these people.

Coffee Talk Leadership

What does all of this have to do with leadership? We often see leadership as taking command and pointing a team in a certain direction. While that is part of leadership, it is also about remembering that we have to know the people on our team.

We have to talk to them regularly, over coffee, walking around the block or some other neutral spot.  We have to understand who they are, what is important to them and what their untapped talents are.  We must question our perception of others.

We can gain all of this information in one simple way – – talking to them.

Talk Like You Mean It

Often in my coaching conversations with people, there comes a point in the discussion when the person realizes they simply don’t know or understand another person.And the only way to understand them is to talk to them. They realize that they will only see the person differently if they find a way to understand them differently.  And talking is the only vehicle that will get them there.

How do you talk in a way that is meaningful to you and the other person?  Ask them about their perceptions of you and others.  Ask them what talents they are not using at work.  Ask them what is important to them.

I talked a lot this past weekend and each conversation affected how I perceive myself and how I believe I am perceived by others.  And when we challenge our perceptions, we grow.

Talk Now, Reap the Rewards Later

And so that is the awareness I gained that I am sharing here. If you want to build trust, create a safe emotional home for yourself and understand who you are in relation to others, then have a conversation.  Building these relationships is fully within your power.

Consider this: At work, what have been your best relationships? How much and how meaningful were the conversations you had with that person? The quality of a conversation is in direct correlation to the quality of a relationship.

So go treat yourself: Talk to someone to understand them.  You will be rewarded for at least the next 30 years.

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