Where are you from?
Picture yourself at a gathering, or perhaps you are attending a virtual gathering, on a video call with five, ten, twenty, or even a hundred others. Regardless, you are with other people. Everywhere you turn, there are lots of faces looking at you (or not). The initial silence is beginning to be punctuated by small talk, verbal icebreakers and stereotypical opening lines are exchanged, and maybe a few people are still “on the edges,” not yet fully immersed in conversation.
This is not an unfamiliar scenario. How many times have you found yourself in this type of setting? Within minutes you meet another person and the “Hi, I’m So-and-so. Nice to meet you…” introduction is made. This is inevitably followed by “What do you do?” And, sometimes, “Where are you from?” is asked.
How do you answer those questions? Do you parrot the greeting in your response? “Nice to meet you, I’m David, and I work for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. What do you
I think it’s time that these situations are viewed as the tremendous opportunities that they actually are, versus being relegated to a rote set of statements that are as benign and memorable as “How are you?” and the “Fine, thanks” expected response.
Would you be willing to say that you are from a place of many blessings, or maybe a place of great contentment or even struggle, or perhaps a spot low on many learning curves (but headed up!), or somewhere else?
In what other ways could you answer this question? What creative responses could you share that might spark a meaningful conversation?
What about the other questions?
What do you do? That
is a very common one!
Should our replies be restricted to official titles and organizations, or would the discussion immediately take on new depth if we conveyed the impact of our work, and what we really want to lead, learn, change, or accomplish next?
Don’t misunderstand – there’s nothing inherently wrong, at all, with common courtesy, expected niceties, and polite banter. Most of us would readily argue, and correctly, that we need to encourage pleasant discourse today, maybe more so now than at any other time. So, by all means, keep that concept alive!
If, though, you are fully invested in an effort to make better things, or make things better, view these moments as opportunities
to lead people to think,
to learn something new yourself, and
to start pondering what might change as a result.
And, even better than an insightful response might be posing different questions
Think about that for a moment.
ask that would provide a welcome springboard for others to talk about their
hopes and dreams, their
ideas, and their
“what next?” (“What next?,” by the way, is another very good way to plant a thought about the scope and reach of one’s future efforts.)
My friend Maria Xenidou, host of the Impact Learning podcast, likes to ask, “What’s your story?”
That’s so simple and straightforward, it’s answerable by anyone, and it opens doors to all sorts of conversation possibilities, and who knows what after that?!
Are you a teacher? A principal? Or do you support colleagues or learners in some other way, or in some other sector?
What could you ask in order to learn more about those you seek to serve?
What would help you truly get to know your customers, co-workers, students (or their parents), so that you could design experiences for them that will have the most value?
Questions truly matter.
Take some time to think about the questions. Time spent on questions may indeed be a better investment than hours expended crafting wonderful answers.
I once had the privilege of working with one the best first-year teachers I have ever met.
Her name is Juli, and she took the time, along with HJ, the paraprofessional in the classroom they led, to pen a short note to each student’s parent, every week or two, in a little stapled, paper booklet.
The kindergartners they taught carried these low-tech (but immensely effective) tools of correspondence from school to home, and back again, all year.
The written communication embedded in these bits of daily highlights, family insights, humor, and sometimes heartache, were brimming with content that added a rich level of understanding, in all directions, for everyone involved, and the trust that was developed as a result of this generous exercise truly benefited the children in that class. Sometimes, often times, it’s the simple act of expressing genuine interest that makes the biggest difference in someone’s life.
The great thing is, we are all presented with chances to make that difference, quite often, if not every single day.
What would you like to see and hear asked at your next interaction with new friends, colleagues, or students? Make it happen!
Where are you from?
How about, “Where are you headed?”
Capitalize on these moments. Learn from them. Lead the change.
Podcast cover art for Lead. Learn. Change. is a view from Brunnkogel (mountaintop) over the mountains of the Salzkammergut in Austria, courtesy of photographer Simon Berger, published on www.unsplash.com