Walking in the Moccasins of Another

When Native American Indians wanted to understand how another person “ticked” they would try to walk in the same way as that person. Hence the phrase “walk in their moccasins”. From this modelling of someone, they got valuable clues as to how the person acts, thinks and carries themselves in life. In modern day business life we have just the same need to understand how others act and think if we are to have the right impact and influence with them.

Recently I have been coaching a number of people for job interviews. These are clearly occasions when you want to prepare well to create the right impact and to influence someone’s decision. One of the most powerful exercises interviewees can do is place themselves fully in the position of the interviewer. This is more than simply thinking on paper about their business needs and style. It is actively imagining yourself into that person’s position during the interview:

  1. understanding the pressures they feel under to make the right decision
  2. understanding what drives them and interests them
  3. imagining the network of other people to whom they will need to explain their decision  

Through this exercise, you, the candidate, learn what will make you an easy choice for the interviewer. You understand how to shape what you present about yourself so that the interviewer already has “silver bullets” with which to explain to others their decision to hire you. If you are not a front-runner in the competition to start with, the insight you get lets you see how to present additional decision criteria where you score higher.

Getting a closer understanding of another’s position is a powerful tool in a number of other business situations:

  1. dealing with staff members who seem difficult or disruptive
  2. gaining buy-in to change
  3. winning fair and effective relationships with customers and suppliers

It is said that in the negotiations around independence for India, Gandhi would arrive at meetings one hour before everyone else so that he could sit in each person’s seat in turn to understand their point of view. You can do the same. Start by setting up two chairs in a meeting format. First sit in “your chair” and look at the person you want to understand. Really get clear about your own thoughts and emotions about that person and the situation. Then, mentally leaving that “you” in “your chair”, sit in the “other person” chair as if they were looking at “you”.  If you know them, imagine their posture and body language. Think about how they have prepared for this meeting. What is most important for them? What are their hot buttons? Who will they have to explain it to afterwards? What pressures do they feel under? Remember, you don’t have to like them but you do want to understand them.

Once you have fully understood their needs, move to a third position – stand somewhere where you can observe both parties objectively. From this observer’s role, what advice and qualities would you like to give to the “you” sat in “your chair”? Finally, go back to “your chair”, sit in it again and allow all the insights and advice to integrate within you as you look at the other person again. You are very likely to find you suddenly know what’s required to have the impact and influence you want.

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