One of the inherent risks of social media, blogs, and the quest for thought-leadership is a me-centric view of the world.  This also evident in all the talk about “personal branding”.  There’s a very real tension between personal branding and company branding — more specifically who owns content produced by “thought leaders” while on the payroll of a company – but that’s the topic of a future post.

we are smarterDuring my tenure at Mzinga, our CEO, Barry Libert, co-authored a book called “We Are Smarter than Me”. As the name suggests, it’s all about the benefits crowdsourcing and group collaboration.  Indeed, getting people to openly share knowledge and advice in a company has been proven to be the best way to foster innovation.

Over time my ear has become tuned to language that represents “me” thinking versus “we” thinking.  Someone who says “we” immediately acknowledges that the business is about team work and that s/he won’t be able to deliver on promises without the help of many people.  People who say “I” a lot may be self-confident and go-getters, but they’re eventually going to piss off the other people involved in the project or be engaged in their next pursuit when something goes wrong.

I’ve quoted Daniel Pink in several of my posts.  Here again he provides some interesting information about me-thinking in what he calls “attunement” and perspective-taking.  He describes an exercise where you use your dominant hand to draw a capital E on your forehead.  How you choose to draw the E – whether the direction makes it readable by you or the person in front of you – reflects the perspective you tend to take.  Here’s the illustration from the management and social psychology wiki:

It’s logical to think that perspective-taking is the same as empathy, but it’s not.   Empathy is a valuable quality and skill.  It means that you can understand how someone else is feeling.  Perspective-taking means that you can envision the actions that need to be taken to address their specific problems.  Here’s an illustration:  imagine a co-worker having a fender-bender on the highway.  It’s likely you can empathize with how she’d feel being stranded on the road watching her car get towed away.  It would be a huge hassle and ruin her day.  You can feel her frustration.  But by taking her perspective, or more colloquially, putting yourself in her shoes, you’ll extend your thinking to all of the follow-on actions she needs to take: notifying the insurance company, arranging a ride home, getting a rental car or other form of transportation, arranging a time to meet the assessor, paying for the repairs, picking up her car from the shop, and finally returning to the normal routine.  By taking her perspective you’re in a better position to understand what’s required to work through these tasks.  The implication for sales people is obvious: if you can help with the actions required to solve problems you can become a valuable business partner.

Here are the things to keep in mind about we-thinking and perspective-taking:

Salespeople:  remove the word “I” from your presentations.   Unless you’re expressing a personal opinion, a business partner will feel better knowing follow-through will come from multiple people rather than just you. Use perspective-taking to really think through your prospect’s and customers’ challenges.  You can help develop a shared vision for solving these problems and describe exactly how your product or service helps achieve these goals.

Managers: find team players who are happy to defer credit to the team members and openly acknowledge the contributions everyone makes to the successes — and failures.  Share ownership.  The quintessential “A Player” may carry themselves with confidence and use “I” quite often (in fact, people in power are more likely to draw the E from their perspective) but this is a red flag for strong ongoing relationships and teamwork.

Buyers:  find companies who highlight good people throughout their organization.  The most credible people will avoid the word “I” except in the context of personally making sure that there’s follow-through.  People are employees after all.  They will come and go.  You want to be sure that you’re dealing with a company that has a culture of teamwork that will be a dependable business partner for many years to come.