Tips for Engaging with People Who Matter Most

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We can wrongly believe we’re effective when we’re missing the point. It’s easy to miss the cues and clues from people we serve.

  • Are we providing what they need?
  • Are we reaching them?
  • Are we lifting them?


One summer my wife Rean and I went on a drive. It was hot; I stopped at a convenience store. I returned to the car with two bottles of cold water and two Snickers candy bars. My wife thanked me for the water and said it was thoughtful of me to be concerned for her thirst.

“Did you notice that I bought your favorite candy bar?” I asked.

Rean replied: “Honey, Snickers is your favorite candy bar. I don’t like Snickers. My favorite candy bar is Milky Way.”

I was married to a wonderful, caring woman but I never noticed that her favorite candy bar was not the same as my favorite.

Ask and listen:

If we’re not accustomed to asking, they’re probably aren’t telling. So we need to ask. Then ask some more. And listen.

Effective leaders are careful to break through the information quarantine that surrounds them.

Actively seek negative feedback as well as positive. They understand that peak performance requires a full range of information — even when the information doesn’t feel good to hear.

Tips for connecting:

  1. Ask for specific feedback on how you can improve
  2. Listen to understand, not to rebut
  3. Express genuine thanks for the honest feedback
  4. Make a sincere effort to adjust your behavior
  5. Return later to request follow-up feedback
  6. Rinse and repeat

Continuous improvement should be a hallmark of every relationship that’s truly important to us. And sometimes our best coaches are the very people we’ve been asked to serve.

It’s not called “servant leadership” for nothing.

What tips for connecting with people who matter most could you suggest?

About Rodger Dean Duncan

Rodger Dean Duncan is a sought-after speaker, consultant, and executive coach. He’s been advisor to hundreds of leaders ranging from cabinet officers in two White House administrations to C-suite executives in top companies around the world. He’s the bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders and founder of Duncan Worldwide.