Believe it or not this is a stack of toothpicks. They were in a container on almost every table in every restaurant in Japan. What it told me was that being able to clean your teeth after every meal was important enough for restaurants to supply the right tool. It also reminded me that visiting a country means taking the time to understand their customs. Knowing people means knowing what is important to them.
I was recently in a room with twenty-four people and only six were born and bred Americans, which meant it took a little more time for everyone to get to know what was important to each other. For some being on time was a sign of respect, for others it was a fluid concept. Some people savored afternoon breaks and for some it was simply more food to be avoided. It took time and effort to find out what was important to people and it was well worth the effort.
As I observed this interesting group getting to know each other, I wondered what they would get to know about me? What was I willing to share and how would my actions reveal things about me that even I wasn’t aware were there? Whether we know it or not what we wear, how we sit in our chair, how we eat and the things we talk about reveal a great deal about us to others. As I watched myself I could see the things they would see and how that helped or hindered their ability to get to know me.
It is the small things that often give us the greatest queues about people. They way they answer a question or do not answer it. The way they share stories or sit silently listening, or appearing to listen, or the things they want to laugh about. All of this gives us clues to who they are and what is important to them. We can only know people when we pay attention and process the information we gather. It’s like noticing that every table has toothpicks to clue us into after dinner expectations. There is power in the small things about people.