Speaking of Huge Barriers

One Tenth of One Percent Different: Speaking of Huge Barriers

By Barry Maher

In spite of the vast industry devoted to human classification and no matter how you classify human beings, we are all more alike than we are different. How alike are we? Well, 99.9 percent of our genetic material is identical.

Are there people you can’t relate too? Of course. There always have been and always will be. Are there any who aren’t worth trying to relate to? Not if you need to work with them in any way shape or form.

There may be a few people that you want as little to do with as possible. That’s perfectly fine. Provided you never do have to deal with them at all. And never, as they say, is a long time.

This is particularly true if you wish to have influence in your organization.

Tip: Even those who aren’t decision-makers themselves can have a huge impact on decisions others make, especially when decisions are made in a group environment.

Winston Churchill said, “Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.” But if you treat anybody like a monkey—if you ignore anyone in that room or snub anyone involved in the process—that person will do their best to make a monkey out of you.

Tip: It’s easier for decision-makers to make decisions when those around them agree. Remember that, when you decide someone isn’t worth the effort of trying to relate to.

If you do make that effort, you might be surprised by what you discover. I know a woman who was judged by a fellow manager to be “the most incomprehensible and self centered business person I’ve ever known. Successful in business, but completely unsuccessful at the business of being a person.” Most of her colleagues shared that opinion. And I have to admit that when I first met her I felt much the same. Later I found out that among the things we hadn’t comprehended in her “incomprehensibility” were clandestine acts of generosity with friends, acquaintances and even strangers that put anything the rest of us had done to shame.

It was fun to make her the devil. But it not only got in the way of business, it wasn’t accurate. I’d love to say that recognizing her generosity and granting humanity to her made it easy to deal with her. It didn’t. But it did make it easier—considerably easier.

A man most of us would never have taken the trouble to get to know once said, “What am I in the eyes of most people? A good-for-nothing, an eccentric and disagreeable man, somebody who has no position in society and never will have. Very well, even if that were true, I should want to show by my work what there is in the heart of such an eccentric man, of such a nobody.”

That was Vincent Van Gogh. What would you give to have the chance to share a few glasses of wine with him now? (So what if you wouldn’t be comfortable asking him to lend you an ear?)

It’s hard to imagine anyone more difficult to relate to than Van Gogh. Yet he may be the most popular painter of all time. Which means that, on some level at least, he’s astonishingly easy to relate to.

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