Sunday, November 15, 2015

Spending Time, Knowing People

My colleague John was talking to me about a visit he made to an historic property our firm manages. It is a high-rise in downtown Richmond, VA that was once the headquarters of a bank. John described the intricate ironwork, plasterwork, and detailed woodwork found throughout the building. In essence he said to me, “You can walk by all of these interesting and beautiful things and not notice them because you’re in a hurry, but if you spend time in a building, really spend time, it’s surprising what you can see. The workmanship in this building draws you in, it is amazing.”

We talked about how time spent in the field with people, and therefore out of our offices, nearly always results in learning about our properties and about the people who serve our properties; and therefore nearly always results in us being able to help others. Time with others simply listening and occasionally asking questions nearly always presents opportunities to help – and yet the centrifugal pull of business draws us again and again toward computers and numbers and electronic communication (to use the word “communication” loosely) and away from people and away from the properties we are supposed to be serving. There is an economic cost to this, but most people are too busy to count this cost.

As I pondered John’s observations about the historic building I thought, “That is the way it is with people. When we are too busy we don’t notice them, not in the sense that we actually know them, actually see the intricacies in them, the challenges they face, and understand in some measure the way they are put together. Like buildings everyone has a history, everyone has a foundation (whether solid or not), everyone has areas of interest – both things that they are interested in and things in them that can be of interest to us. If we don’t spend time with people we’ll never know them.”

Vickie and I recently spent a few days travelling in North Carolina. If there was a theme of this trip it was spending time with people. In Morehead City we spent at least 45 minutes with a staff person at the visitor information center, we didn’t just talk about things to see and do in the area, we listened as he talked about himself. In Beaufort we listened as a server in a coffee shop told us about living and working in the area. At Cape Lookout National Park we conversed with a park ranger for an extended period of time, she told us about her background and what led her to be at the park this season. In New Bern we had two extended conversations, one with a man from New York, a retired fireman; the other with a woman whose husband has medical problems - they are in the process of selling their business. All we had to do was to stop, ask questions, and listen. All we had to do was to take time.

My colleague John took time in the historic building and he was rewarded by seeing things he had never “seen” before. We took time in North Carolina and we were rewarded by “seeing” people rather than simply getting what we wanted from people. I wonder how much I miss every week, if not every day, by not having time for others.