Think about the countless people you encounter each day…
…At the coffee shop.
…In the checkout line.
…At the playground with your kids.
…Around the neighborhood.
…In your home.
Now ask yourself, “Do I really see these people as valuable individuals, or do I see them simply as figures passing through my day?” It’s easy to become focused on what we need to accomplish and miss the very present opportunity to interact and engage with the people in our path.
Several years ago, I was getting out of my car for an event at the Dallas Arboretum. The valet recognized me and said she had read some of my books. Trust me, this doesn’t happen very often, so understandably I wanted to visit with her. That encounter at the car led to an opportunity to mentor this positive and gifted young woman, and we are close friends to this day.
What made that connection work? It began by opening our eyes. She saw me as more than just a customer, but rather as a possible mentor. I saw her as more than a valet – I saw a smart girl filled with great enthusiasm and potential. What do you see as you observe the people around you?
How do we open our eyes to the treasure in others? What are some practical ways we can train our eyes to see beyond the immediate? Here are a few tips:
- Strengthen your observation skills. Every time I’m in an airport waiting for my flight, I enjoy watching the people shuffling by me. I try to figure out where they are going and why, simply by observing what they are wearing or carrying. I employ a bit of imagination, but this little game helps me to pay attention to the details and improves my vision. Every person has a purpose or a reason for their journey, it takes a watchful eye to truly see.
- Know their name. Savvy customer service companies are keenly aware of the power of a name. A thank you goes a whole lot further when it is accompanied by the person’s name and a smile. Often the name is easy to find because someone is wearing a name tag or handing you a credit card. If the name is not so obvious, introducing yourself only takes a moment. Use a name twice, then make a mental note of it, and you are more likely to remember it next time. Earl Nightingale put it this way, “Of all things people want, recognition is number one. And recognition means a name. It’s the sweetest sound a person can hear, even though you’ll never get them to admit it.”
- Ask a question. The right question, at the right time can unveil a possible connection, a future opportunity or even a deep hurt or need. Recently, I was buying flowers at the grocery store and the customer next to me pushed aside the veil of isolation by saying, “Those are beautiful flowers. Are they for a special occasion?” What a great way to open up a conversation, when normally we would just stand there looking at our phones, waiting for our turn at the register. Questions are keys to unlock conversation and can be as simples as, “How are you doing today?” Or what about asking a waitress or a teacher or an Uber driver, “How can I pray for you?”
I know it’s a challenge for each of us to slow down, take our eyes off our agenda and pay attention to the people around us. Yet at the end of the day, what is more valuable than investing in another person’s life. It takes just a little extra effort to really see the person in front of us and care about his or her story, and certainly the reward is worth it. When we think about every individual as a beautiful creation of God, rather than just simply someone we pass on the street, it changes our perspective and makes every encounter shine brightly with potential.