I assumed you were okay

There are those moments in a conversation or a workshop where everything changes. The catalyst for the change, is almost always vulnerability or discernment and understanding. Often, it’s both

A few weeks ago I conducted a team activation with a highly successful management team. This team over the past few years can lay claim to being overachieving simply based on performance measures and impact. There is however a danger is being in the realm of winning. For one, the familiarity of success can lead to levels of unfamiliarity especially in when it comes to relationships. 

Winning people often become independent, expectant of high levels of transactional engagement and alienated from each other. There is no crisis, to drive us towards each other. So, as we entered the day and in prior conversations with the leader, our goal was depth of conversation for these highly successful individuals, seeking to move into places where maybe they had become numb.

Let’s digress for a moment. Last night we joined our friends for dinner. During conversation our friends shared a story of friends of theirs who are going through a separation. It has totally blindsided them. Phrase like, “of all the couples in the world, they are the last we would have thought to be separating.” I certainly cannot lay claim to understanding the issues beneath the surface of this couple – I don’t know them. But it once again can show the dangers of success, of ease, of achievement. Good conditions can leave us never talking the things that challenge, the things that are beneath the surface. 

Photo by 7 SeTh on Unsplash
It’s a bit like the dichotomy of Mrs. Clarke (Susan Sarandon) and her husband in the movie “Shall we Dance.” Mr. Clarke (Richard Gere) has everything, has it all together, has a great family. Why would he not share his newly inherited hobby of ball room dancing with his wife?

Back to the high performing team...

The moment of change for this team came with the heartfelt words “I assumed you were ok, and I am so sorry.” The questions had slowly led the team to share their world beyond their organisational,  transactional, achievement. As the dance unfolded, a most brilliant truth was displayed. In our success we were making assumptions that we all were ok, that we all were strong, that our independence was a sign of us all being ok. Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions – how they hurt us and how they limit possibility. 

As vulnerability increased, understanding unraveled.

I love Malcolm Gladwell’s words from his most recent book “Talking to strangers:

"We should also accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers. What is required of us is restraint and humility."

Gladwell uses the word “strangers” here. We might therefore exclude colleagues at work and yet from many people, the people they work with at work, are truly strangers. Our engagements are surface, glued together by organisational KPIS’s. My interpretation of Stephen Coveys book, the 8th Habit is “the majority of people in the workplace feel misunderstood.” Perhaps in Gladwell’s words – they are strangers.


Photo by Felix Koutchinski on Unsplash
Where in your life have you maybe become numb to others, assuming that they and we are all ok?

A most simple intention and activity to have with others are regular check in conversations guided by the simple question, “how’s US doing?” If a person does not want to have such a conversation with you, or is very guarded, then you probably have your answer. If both parties can connect around the “importance of US” then those wonderful moments where everything changes can become a regularity as now, we have a playground for vulnerability and understanding.


I know we all know this message – assumptions hurt us. And yet chances are we all are walking with a suitcase full of assumptions. Why not embark on a “how is US doing” conversation today.

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