This past weekend, I found myself at a professional retreat hosted by the Vail Leadership Institute. The event took place in a pristine setting – a restored farmhouse nestled in Vail Valley at the base of snow-capped mountains and surrounded by trees, farm animals and other wildlife. It was an intense, high-velocity, emotional few days during which the small group of eight participants took a deep dive into each person’s future vision for his/her business, career, life.
Among the most palpable takeaways were the deep friendships formed – especially considering many of us had never met one another before we arrived. In trying to determine how/why we came together as a group so quickly, I believe it is because we did “the long version” of our introductions.
Sure, when we first arrived, we all did the requisite handshake and hello. However, to formally kickoff the event, our highly capable facilitator, Karah Maloley, was not willing to let us get by with the standard pleasantries. She asked us, “when do we ever really get a chance to know someone? To really hear the long version of who they are? Almost never.”
We were then instructed to introduce ourselves to the group – to really share our “life line.” Karah told us to go back to the beginning and just talk. There were no time limits. Those were the only “rules.” Some of us told our stories sequentially; others spoke to key themes that marked our lives. All of us talked about family, friends, education, careers. We shared dreams, disappointments, aspirations. Everybody identified pivotal moments – the good and the not-so-good – that shaped who we are today. Being there in person, I was captivated. The shortest introduction was about 45 minutes; others went longer. None of them felt too long; each was just right.
Following each introduction, the group dove in with questions, comments and feedback for the presenter. Everyone was engaged. There were moments of laughter, moments of intense concentration, even a few tears fell.
Of course, there were many other activities and exercises. It was a busy 48 hours! By the time we all dispersed on Sunday at noon, we each left with seven new friends – friends for a lifetime in whom we felt emotionally invested.
I’m not suggesting we all spend hours and hours in one fell swoop sharing deep dive dissertations with one another – it’s unfeasible and I recognize that going away for a retreat is not exactly like everyday life! That said, I am suggesting that, over time, you take full advantage of the moments you have with other people to really get to know who they are. Collect the information necessary to string together the long version of peoples’ stories.
When you encounter another person, don’t just ask “what do you do?” Instead, ask “who are you?” Learn his/her history; strive to understand what is in his/her heart; ask how you may be of value to his/her life. Tell him/her you want the long version of his/her introduction; be ready and willing to share yours, too.
Grateful to Karah, John, Michele, Pam, Ross, Todd and Will for sharing their stories with me.