This week I discover that one of my sons is under the impression that I’m constantly disappointed in him. I also discover that a valued colleague finds me intimidating.

Each of these facts was a surprise to me. Something very real for my son and my colleague had remained out of my awareness for many months. And in each case it took a bit of a barney for those facts to come to light. A barney can be a great way to find the courage to be honest with someone and I’m not knocking it as a way to have watershed moments in relationships. But in my rather English, buttoned-up relationships, arguments don’t happen regularly enough for them to be the only method of finding out how I am making someone else feel.

Perhaps it doesn’t have to be that way if we take some small courageous steps more often to find out what’s going on for someone else. Now of course it’s not realistic to constantly be asking someone how you are impacting them. But our social norm of NEVER asking, seems kind of crazy too.

In pairs coaching, a breakthrough moment is often when a pair can share their impact on one another. “I didn’t know you felt that way” is such a great thing to hear. It is the moment in which we have the opportunity to understand how someone important to us is experiencing us, to correct assumptions and misunderstandings and, with this new data make different choices in how we relate to each other.

Some forms of words to try that might kick off a conversation:

  1. I can’t tell what you are thinking right now, can you tell me?
  2. What’s it like to hear me say what I just said?
  3. How did that go? Is there anything I could have done differently?

Of course, all of these questions take courage to answer honestly. The bedrock of trust on which a relationship is based makes an honest answer possible. The more we let our colleagues and friends know that we are curious about their experience of us and can handle their version of the truth without judgment or defensiveness the more likely we are to find out what our impact is.