I have a customer with whom I've never been on the same page. He is several generations my senior. He's criticized me for not having a pencil at the ready and being too dependent on my computer. He marches his way into my office as if I've just been sitting around waiting for him. He wants business to be done the way it was done decades ago and has decided that as the local face of the company, I'm going to hear about it. Naturally, he does a fair amount of business with us. The other day he came in needing a minor service. Shortly after sitting down he set a new iPhone on my desk and mentioned that he had just picked it up last week. Yes, the same customer who refused to use ink over lead. Happy to find common ground I asked how he liked it.
We spent the next ten minutes talking about how he had become the unofficial photographic historian for the city. He had some 11,000 photos of historic buildings and homes, new builds, landscapes, events, and everything in between. Most of the photos had been taken with a more professional camera, but he had moved all the storage to the cloud for quick access when he was out and about.
As a person who prides myself on my talent in cultivating relationships, I must say I learned a great lesson about people during that conversation. No matter how busy I might be, or what important things might be on my agenda for the day, none of it is as important as the people.
A number of years ago, I'd guess I was in college, I read some great advice that applies here. Unfortunately I don't recall the source, but it amounted to a simple concept: be interested. The story had been about someone who was struggling to enjoy settings with numerous new people because they felt others simply droned on and the conversations were boring. The advice was to "be interested" and to really listen to others and appreciate the diversity of people.
I forget that lesson from time to time, but when I remember to put it to work it's amazing how different interactions with others feel. You learn how often you get caught up in your own agenda and how you really don't give others the time and attention they deserve. I relearned that with my customer the other day. When I could lay aside my work for ten minutes and really listen to who he was, it was surprisingly easy to find something I found interesting about him.